Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Friday, March 21, 2008

    No one can argue Tyler Perry hasn't cashed-in with his films, but if Meet the Browns is any indication of future projects, his money train might be coming to an end. There was some artistic redemption with 2007's Why Did I Get Married?, but now that we have Meet the Browns, which is in theaters today, it' s obvious his movies still reek of clichés, stained with predictability and riddled with unrealistic scenarios.

    Perry's strengths are relying on the cultural bearings of African-Americans like soul food, basketball and slang, but this is also his biggest offense. Perry's use of cultural bearings plays on every stereotype and overused idea to makes one dimensional, soulless characters and humdrum scripts.

    Meet the Browns is based on the original stage play of the same name and is the story of Brenda, played by Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, a struggling single mother of three. Her eldest son, played by the talented Lance Gross, is a basketball prodigy who is fighting the temptations of the mean Chicago streets.

    Rick Fox is a basketball scout, who seeks out the skills of Brenda's eldest son, but she doesn't believe in "hoop dreams". After Brenda loses her job, her estranged father dies and, right on cue, a letter arrives with a bus ticket down South to pay her respects. Brenda and the kids go for the ride, only after the advice of her stereotypical Latin friend, played by Sofía Vergara. Side note: Vergara's character is terribly written, recalling what a white writer in the 1950s would conjure up for black characters.

    Once down South, Brenda and her kids meet the Brown family, who happen to be her family. The Browns are every other black family in Perry's films: Loud, unruly, overeating, and cracking a nonstop stream of trite jokes.

    Oh, and remember that basketball scout, played by Rick Fox? Well, he just happens to live in the same neighborhood as the Brown family and wouldn't you know there is a love connection between him and Brenda? He even has plans to make her son's hoop dreams come true. Chaos ensues, which includes drinking, basketball, gambling, drug dealing and eventually a storybook ending with love and money. I've seen better story lines for a 1-800-MATTRESS commercial.

    Meet the Browns is Tyler Perry's worst, but for reasons you may not think. Sure, most of his films, with the exception of Why Did I Get Married?, have poor writing and no originality. However, Perry makes his most costly mistake to date. Listening to the critics, he tones down the extreme religiosity. Now, that would only work if he toned down the religion and toned up a quality script, which he doesn't.

    "Jesus" throughout an entire film, does not make it a good movie, but it does cater to his most profitable audience. Perry controlled the Jesus element, which will disappoint many of his fans who just want to laugh and feel sanctified -- now they too will roll their eyes and be just as mortified as the critics. The veil has been removed!

    In fairness, the actors try from the belly of their souls to make the script work. Poor Angela Bassett is delivering like she is on Broadway. She seems to be saying to herself, "This isn't as bad as I think! This isn't as bad as I think!" Yes, Angela, it is... but someone who has embodied the spirits of characters like Tina Turner and Rosa Parks will always be perfection in my book.

    There are moments when you think Jennifer Lewis' priceless character acting can save the Browns, but after just a few laughs and about thirty minutes into the film, she morphs into another Perry character with a drinking problem and a quick mouth.

    Lastly, as if the audience wasn't tortured enough with implausibility, the film takes a bizarre turn with a popup of Perry's Madea and Uncle Joe character. Out of nowhere, Madea is in a police car chase. How can I describe it? Remember those mid-'90's hip-hop videos, where the music stops and there is a senseless scene of something that had nothing to do with the video? That is the best way to describe this ill-fitting Madea moment with Perry obviously relying on gimmicks.

    Meet the Browns is another reincarnation of poor writing, rehearsal-like directing and good actors minimized to rubbish. I appreciate an African-American director making money and his oddball attempt at showing black people in a "positive light". Nonetheless, I am not for representation at any costs, especially when Perry relies on the most common denominator of stereotypes. Minstrel shows in the mid 20th century had the same whacked-out haphazard scenarios, disguised as "plots", as Perry's films. With the exception of black face, Meet the Browns is no different than minstrelsy.

    Grade: D-

    Meet the Browns is in theaters today.

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    Posted by Clay :: 10:00 AM :: 0 comments
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