In actor/writer/director/phenom Tyler Perry’s latest visit to the big screen, the heart of the Christmas-flick enterprise lives somewhere between the comedic lines “If you put Viagra in the tree’s water, it’ll stay up all year” and the hopeful race relations message “Every generation sees a little less division.” Unfortunately, the comic zing — delivered by Perry’s sassy Madea character and the shameless jokester Larry the Cable Guy — far out-trumps the dramatic life or social-commentary aspects of this often hackneyed holiday-movie concoction. But, with the right forgiving yuletide mood, it’s a funky fun little guilty pleasure, with some well-meaning themes around the fringes.
Center screen, without a doubt, is the oddball charmer of Perry’s sequel-ready character Madea, a large and large-spirited African-American auntie with little to zero tolerance for lies or socially correct BS, and a hip, loosey-goosey way with the English language. Perry/Madea repeatedly saves the day in the film, flinging zingers, defusing pomposity and pretensions, and giving a classroom of children a zany and language-twisting “hip-hop” Nativity story.
As for a narrative premise upon which to drape the farcical fodder, A Madea Christmas involves a surprise Christmas visit with Madea’s sister (Anna Maria Horsford) to her niece’s farm in Alabama, where the young Lacey (Tika Sumpter) has secretly married a white man (Chad Michael Murray), and is hesitant to fess up about her interracial pairing to her mother. Add to the mix a corporate entanglement with a public vindication attached, a teacher’s struggles with the system, the secularization of Christmas, and assorted racial tensions, and the film has its work cut out for itself. But while the overburdened thematic baggage threatens to get in the way of a good time, comedy will and does win out.
Sentimental as all get-out, but one of those movies from which we expect the inevitable end-credit “outtakes,” A Madea Christmas is icing on the Perry/Madea franchise cake, and our holi-dazed senses make it all go down easier than it should.