Madea’s Big Happy Family

Lionsgate Films

Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and drug use.

Tyler Perry Back In Drag For More Tomfoolery As Madea

Hold onto your wigs and fat suits, folks, because Tyler Perry is back in drag as America’s sassiest granny. But don’t make the mistake of attributing the Madea franchise’s enduring appeal to the loudmouthed hussy’s bodaciousness alone, since she’s as much beloved for her timely sermonizing as for all that trademark tomfoolery.

While undeniably upping the ante in terms of sheer frivolity, this sixth installment is also grounded by a bittersweet storyline. At the point of departure, we find Madea’s niece, Shirley (Loretta Devine), being informed by her physician (Philip Anthony-Rodriguez) about a resurgence of the cancer that she’s been fighting for the past seven years.

Despite the urgent diagnosis, she declines further treatment, explaining that she’s simply too tired to do another round of chemotherapy. And with just weeks to live, the devoutly religious Christian resigns herself to the will of the Lord.

What does still matter to her, however, is seeing her three children one last time to break the unfortunate news to them in person. The trouble is that all of them are currently consumed by bad relationships, each more in crisis than the next.

Daughter Tammy (Natalie Desselle) is married to a wimp (Rodney Perry) who lets their smart aleck sons (Stevie Wash, Jr. and Benjamin Aiken) walk all over her. Materialistic middle-child Kimberly (Shannon Kane) cares so much about her high-paying corporate job and the trappings of success that she ignores her toddler and takes her patient hubby (Isaiah Mustafa) for granted.

Elsewhere, 18-year-old Byron (Bow Wow), Shirley’s youngest, is being pressured by his gold digger of a girlfriend (Lauren London) to supplement his modest income by selling drugs on the street again. Adding to the recent-parolee’s angst is the baby-mama drama surrounding his hypercritical ex’s (Teyana Taylor) demands for more child support for their son.

Care to hazard a guess whose help Shirley enlists to slap some sense, both literally and figuratively, into this dysfunctional menagerie? Madea, of course, proceeds to browbeat her misbehaving extended family into shape in her own inimitable style, which simply will not be ignored.

Along for the ride purely for comic relief are a couple of embarrassing relatives: Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and Mr. Brown (David Mann). The former is a feisty septuagenarian who smokes marijuana and flirts shamelessly (“Are you married?” “Are you straight?”) with younger men. The latter is a garishly dressed master of the malapropism who somehow convincingly confuses the words “prostitute” with “prostate,” “carbon peroxide” with “carbon monoxide” and even “colonoscopy” with “Coca Cola.” Such distracting buffoonery notwithstanding, Madea as usual miraculously manages to straighten everybody out, and right in the nick of time for the uplifting, closing credits Kodak moment.

Melodramatic tough love as meaningful group therapy!

Very Good (3 stars).

Running time: 106 Minutes.

Behind The Burly Q

First Run Features

Unrated

Revealing” DVD Revisits Golden Age Of Burlesque

With roots in 19th Century vaudeville and minstrel shows, burlesque enjoyed its heyday in the United States in the 1930s when it emerged as the country’s most popular form of live entertainment until the advent of television, porno films and the women’s movement would signal its demise. The genre originally featured both comedians and dancers backed by a live band, although eventually the striptease acts came to be the only things the audiences wanted to see.

The curvaceous cutie pies that plied their trade as ecdysiasts are proud members of “America’s Greatest Generation,” that rapidly disappearing set whose ranks are thinning at an alarming rate as they pass away due to old age. But thanks to actress-turned-director Leslie Zemeckis their contributions to the culture have been preserved for posterity, recounted in fascinating fashion in this revealing documentary cobbled from a combination of file footage and dozen of interviews with historians, surviving strippers and many of their offspring.

Although these aging senior citizens may just be a shadow of their former selves physically, the life stories they share here show that time has not diminished their inner beauty one iota. Most, we learn, adopted colorful stage names like Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Evangeline The Oyster Girl, Little Egypt, Sally Rand, Lady Midnight, Alexandra the Great, White Fury, TNT Red, Kitty West, Gilded Lili, The Sexquire Girl, The Ball Of Fire, Gypsy Rose Lee and Bingo. But sadly, behind the glamorous facades were mostly sad tales about how they had basically been driven into the profession by dysfunctional families and/or money woes caused by the Great Depression.

For example, Evangeline The Oyster Girl says she turned to the relatively-easy money of burlesque after watching her mother work herself to the bone in the cotton fields. Coal miner’s daughter Blaze Starr started taking her clothes off after her dad developed Black Lung disease. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Tempest Storm can now see that in her case she pranced around in her birthday suit because she was looking for the father she never knew.

Regardless, it seems that one of the occupational hazards of the job was unstable relationships, as some subjects bemoan never tying the knot while others report marrying four or five times. Then there were those who had mental problems, drank or were addicted to pain killers, the ostensible fallout of a career spent on the road traveling from town to town to get next to naked for perfect strangers.

Apparently, each woman tried to include something memorable in her routine to attract repeat customers. One says she got skin poisoning from dyeing her hair green. Another did yoga on stage, while Sally Keith’s claim to fame was having such control over her pectoral muscles that she could send her tassels swinging in opposite directions and in perfect time to the musical accompaniment.

A fun-filled tribute to the Golden Age of Burlesque which belatedly restores a little dignity to its underappreciated, socially-ostracized performers.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 98 Minutes.

DVD Extras: Three featurettes, bonus interviews, burlesque timeline, photo gallery and the theatrical trailer.

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

For movies opening April 29, 2011

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexual references and drug use). Louisiana horror flick, based on the comic book series of the same name, about a supernatural sleuth (Brandon Routh) who, with the help of his faithful zombie assistant (Sam Huntington), tracks down the mysterious monsters of the bayou. With Taye Diggs, Peter Stormare and Anita Briem.

Fast Five (PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and intense violence). Fifth installment in The Fast And The Furious franchise finds ringleaders ex-cop (Paul Walker) and ex-con (Vin Diesel) reuniting their gang in Rio to plot the proverbial “last big heist” while on the run from the authorities. Cast includes Tyrese Gibson, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges.

Hoodwinked Too! Hood VS. Evil (PG for action, rude humor and mild swear words) 3-D animated sequel has Red Riding Hood (Hayden Panettiere) teaming with the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) to solve the sudden disappearance of Hansel (Bill Hader) and Gretel (Amy Poehler). Voice cast includes Brad Garrett, Glenn Close, Joan Cusack and Cheech and Chong.

Prom (PG for fighting and coarse language). Coming-of-age comedy chronicling the teen angst of a number of high school students preparing for the senior prom. Ensemble cast includes Aimee Teegarden, Yin Chang, Thomas McDonell, DeVaughn Nixon, Danielle Campbell, Raini Rodriguez and Joe Adler.

13 Assassins (R for graphic violence, disturbing images and brief nudity). Remake of the 1963, black and white classic of the same name, set in feudal Japan, about a band of samurai warriors who conspire to ambush a sadistic mobster (Goro Inagaki) with political aspirations. Cast includes Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada and Yusuke Iseya. (In Japanese with subtitles.)

The Arbor (Unrated). Brit biopic highlighting the legacy of the late playwright Andrea Dunbar who died of a brain hemorrhage during a drinking binge in the Beacon Pub in Bradford at the tender age of 28. Featuring file footage and reflections by her friends and extended family.

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (Unrated). Stone Age documentary, shot in 3-D by Oscar-nominee Werner Herzog, examining cave paintings from the Paleolithic Era discovered in 1994 by spelunkers exploring in Southern France. With appearances by archaeologists Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes and Carole Fritz. (In English and German with subtitles.)

Earthwork (PG for mature themes, smoking and mild epithets). Carbon footprint drama based on actual events which transpired in 1994 when a crop-artist from Kansas (John Hawkes) was hired by Donald Trump to create an eco-friendly sculpture made of dirt, rocks and plants out of several acres of land located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. With Bruce MacVittie, Chris Bachand and Everett Dexter.

Exporting Raymond (PG for smoking and brief profanity). “Lost in Translation” documentary chronicling Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal’s efforts to mount a Russian version of his hit sitcom in Moscow. (In English and Russian with subtitles.)

Lebanon, PA (PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes.) Dysfunctional family drama revolving around a Philly advertising exec (Josh Hopkins) who returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral only to embark on an extramarital affair with the teacher (Samantha Mathis) of his pregnant, 17-year-old cousin (Rachel Kitson). With Mary Beth Hurt, Brea Bee and Roxie Cotton.

The Robber (Unrated) Crime blotter bio-pic recounts the real-life exploits of Johann Rettenberger (Andreas Lust), a marathon runner who took up bank robbery as a hobby. With Peter Vilnai, Franziska Weisz and Florian Wotruba. (In German with subtitles)

Sympathy For Delicious (Unrated). Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo (for The Kids Are All Right) makes his directorial debut with this con artist comedy about a desperate paraplegic DJ (Christopher Thornton) who gets the surprise of his life when he turns to faith healing. Co-starring Ruffalo, Laura Linney Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis.

We Go Way Back (Unrated). Surrealistic adventure about a 23-year-old, aspiring actress (Amber Hubert) who finally lands her first lead role only to end up haunted by voices and visions of her disappointed, decade-younger self (Maggie Brown). With Kate Bayley, Sullivan Brown and Basil Harris.

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