You know how this is supposed to work: We critics are supposed to cherry pick all the flaws and fissures in "Madea's Family Reunion," Tyler Perry's follow-up to his unexpectedly phenomenal hit of a year ago, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." Meanwhile, fans of Perry's down-home formula of spiritual uplift, soap opera and raucous, low-brow comedy are supposed to come down hard on the critics.
And yes, there's a ragged road-show texture to this film that would be easy to dismiss if one didn't suspect that it might be calculated.
Perry assumes the director's chair for "Reunion," for which he has a writing credit and took the roles of two-fisted Aunt Madea and naughty-minded Uncle Joe. The two characters act as kind of a ribald chorus to a story line involving their nieces: Lisa (Rochelle Aytes) is engaged to a suave, abusive corporate hotshot (Blair Underwood), and Vanessa (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) is a single mom whose skittishness about men is tested by a dreamboat bus driver (Boris Kodjoe). Their troubles are so huge, the eponymous family reunion would be an afterthought if it weren't for Maya Angelou and Cicely Tyson delivering grandiloquent bromides about unity, devotion, family values.
"Reunion" is an awkward compound of paradoxical tones and ideas. (It's not OK for Underwood's character to pound on Lisa, but it's OK for Madea to belt-whip her foster child?) But one shouldn't underestimate Perry's ability to make such contradictions work and get away with the most wretched excess. (Wait 'til you see the wedding!)
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, domestic violence, sex and drug references.
Running time: 107 minutes