Tyler Perry, right, as Madea, with Romeo Miller, left, and Eugene Levy in… (KC Bailey / Lionsgate )
Supposedly a bid for a summer-months crossover hit, "Tyler Perry'sMadea's Witness Protection" is a spectacularly slapdash and wearingly half-hearted effort from the prolific writer-director-actor, lacking energy, structure or common sense.
Perry returns to his signature character of Madea — the sassy, say-anything elderly aunt with a penchant for handguns and stern moralizing — who here is tasked with sheltering the family of accountant George Needleman (Eugene Levy), who is caught up in the federal investigation of a Ponzi scheme.
Perry has said the idea for the film came from a dinner-table conversation about what might happen if Bernie Madoff was under house arrest with Madea, but the setup is undermined by Perry's decision to make Levy's character a hapless fall guy who was not in on any wrong-doing.
And though "Witness Protection" is being sold partly on the premise that Madea goes to New York City, this occupies only a few minutes of the Georgia-set (and shot) story. A long sequence of Madea going through airport security feels like the equivalent of a stand-up comedian pandering to an audience with jokes along the lines of "Airports, am I right?"
Equally problematic, the witness protection storyline — that Levy's family is being hunted by a mob family named Malone — is ultimately abandoned. And why are prosecutors in Atlanta pursuing a Wall Street case and a New York crime syndicate anyway?
With an accountant named Needleman and a banker named Goldberg, one might assume the film would explore relations between African Americans and Jews, but that subject is apparently too potentially fraught for Perry.
The film's general sloppiness is a sign that Perry's hectic production schedule — his previous film, "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" was released just this past February — may simply have gotten the better of him.
Tom Arnold appears early on as Levy's crooked boss and then never returns for his comeuppance. Marla Gibbs is likewise disappeared from the story. An implication that one of Perry's recurring characters is actually Levy's biological father is left unresolved, readdressed only briefly in the film's end-credit outtakes. (Jokes from the trailer appear only in the final gag reel as well.)
For anyone entering the filmmaker's comedic world for the first time, "Witness Protection" would make a terrible introduction. His characters' charms may be thin, but they do exist.