The Family That Preys

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Directed by Tyler Perry. Starring Sanaa Lathan, Alfre Woodard, Rockmond Dunbar, Kathy Bates, and Cole Hauser. Rated PG-13. 111 minutes.

"You're a woman scorned with no prenup. That's a recipe for good livin'" is just one of the zingers Kathy Bates gets to deliver as Charlotte Cartwright, a rich Southern matriarch whose son (Cole Hauser) is having an affair with Andrea (Sanaa Lathan), the social-climbing daughter of Charlotte's Bible-waving best friend, Alice (Alfre Woodard). Money long ago corrupted the Cartwrights, and now it's corrupting Andrea, whose cheating ways eventually get her a sock in the face from her absurdly naive husband (Rockmond Dunbar), a moment of domestic violence that the usually high-minded Tyler Perry appears to condone. Set in an unnamed modern city, this snail's-paced film might as well take place in the Fifties, since it seems to have been inspired by one of those Hollywood melodramas in which one company employs the entire town, and the only places free from corruption are the church and the local diner. Although juicy secrets spill out on cue in the third act, what's memorable here is the sparkling chemistry between Bates and Woodard, whose scenes together are a pleasure to watch, even as one thinks their next outing should be to co-teach a master class titled How to Rise Above Cliché.

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