No matter how offensive, abusive, or downright unfunny she gets, Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) sees it and tells it like it is. She may be rough around the edges and even creepy, but the towering, motormouthed ogress always cuts through the bull, finds out what’s wrong, who’s wrong, and makes it right again. That’s been Tyler Perry’s winning formula for this entire franchise. But I fear even Madea’s staunchest fans might balk at the noisome holiday treat that is “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas.”
The humor seems sour and perfunctory from the start. Given a holiday job as a clerk at an Atlanta department store by her niece Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford), Madea is soon barking at the pushy woman who bugs her for service while she’s trying to buy scratch tickets on the phone, insulting the portly customer looking for lingerie, and verbally abusing the snooty manager. Then she ransacks the cash drawer for her pay after she’s been fired. You show them, Madea!
But the film gains traction when Eileen insists on visiting her daughter Lacey (Tika Sumpter, the best thing in the movie), who has given up a promising career to buy a farm and teach school in a hard-luck town in Alabama. Madea hints that maybe Lacey has moved so far away because she is trying to avoid her possessive, neurotic mother. Nonetheless, the two hitch a ride with Oliver (JR Lemon), Lacey’s high school flame, now a big deal in PR. He’s heading down there to arrange a donation from a company to help bail out Lacey’s school and make the annual Christmas Pageant possible. And maybe with the connivance of Eileen, he’ll get a second chance with Lacey, too.
After some tasteless Klan humor, it seems like Madea might be working some of her magic. Certainly this Deep South backwater can use the help: There’s environmental exploitation, disenfranchised farmers, school budget cuts, borderline child abuse, the War against Christmas, and bullying.
Closer to home, Eileen exhibits a case of reverse racism when she puts down Conner (Eric Lively), a white guy working on the farm who apparently has a closer relationship with Lacey than she lets on. Madea let’s Eileen have it too; she doesn’t play favorites. Maybe she goes a bit too far when, while baby-sitting a class, she ties a malicious blond girl to a cross with Christmas tree lights. But her ragtime version of the nativity story almost makes up for it.
Then, just when you think that Christmas with Madea might not be so bad after all, who should pull up in his big-wheeled pick-up but her redneck doppelganger, Larry the Cable Guy. He plays Buddy, Conner’s dad, and he’s come with his wife, Kim (Kathy Najimy), to share Christmas with their son and Lacey. As might be expected, he and Madea hit it off, him joking about someone so ugly that when the dog humped her leg he closed his eyes, her making comments about milking bulls. It’s a Christmas nightmare, stuck with two obnoxious relatives who think they’re funny, and won’t shut up.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.