Madea Goes to Jail

Tyler Perry as Madea

When we last saw Tyler Perry's signature character — the bosomy, blunt-smoking, Glock-yielding Georgia granny — she and her brother, Joe (also Perry), were being pulled over by the po-po in a cameo in last March's Meet the Browns (this is Perry's third film in 11 months). Wearing a fat suit and earrings for more than two minutes for the first time since Madea's Family Reunion (2006), Perry isn't content to operate in one genre when he can stuff in at least three. He leavens — not altogether seamlessly — his ludicrous fallen-woman melodrama (Assistant D.A. Derek Luke is determined to save crazy-wigged prostitute Keshia Knight Pulliam, a childhood friend who took a bad turn after two years in college) with Madea's broad humor: "I'll rip out your urethra tube!" Check off all of Perry's motifs: vilification of the black bourgie princess, tough-love Christian messages, and Academy Award-nominated actresses (Viola Davis, this time) somehow maintaining their dignity. As ridiculous as his films frequently are, Perry, a shrewd yet benevolent showman, knows and loves his audience. And 2009 is a particularly resonant year for Madea, who, though she out-bullies Dr. Phil and beats a butch blond yard bird into submission, still isn't as tough as the grandma now living in the White House.

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