Following up his histrionic mangling of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls…, Tyler Perry keeps a straight face for Good Deeds, the story of a successful businessman whose run-in with a homeless single mom leads him to question his preprogrammed life. As Wesley Deeds—get it?—Perry is stripped of Madea’s fat suit and fright wig, but his performance is so muted, he might as well be swaddled in cloth.
A fifth-generation Ivy League legacy, Perry’s character is to the manor born, but running the family software concern comes with its share of upscale headaches. A competitor has just poached his biggest client, and Perry’s resentful brother (Brian White) never misses an opportunity to blow his top, whether he’s blowing a business deal or unloading on a woman parked in Perry’s private spot. The latter tantrum doubles as a meet-uncute for Perry and Thandie Newton, who’s looking for a salary advance to keep her and her 6-year-old daughter (Jordenn Thompson) off the street. Unfortunately, the IRS is already garnishing Newton’s wages, so by the day’s end, they’re homeless, with the girl sleeping in a supply closet while her mother works the night shift cleaning Perry’s office.
Although Perry’s character can trace his ancestry back to his father’s African tribe, he’s drifted far from his roots. When he busts Newton making personal calls on the job, she asks if he’s going to “run tell massa,” not knowing that the “old white man” who runs the business is Perry himself. His curiosity piqued, he sneaks a look at Newton’s iPod, then wonders what this “two-p-a-c” is all about. Notwithstanding the Africa-shaped earrings dangling from Newton’s lobes, or the place a trip to the motherland plays in the climax, the film doesn’t coherently explore this theme, but its subconscious persistence is more intriguing than the movie’s painfully worked-out plot points.
Although Good Deeds preaches sympathy for the working class, Perry writes like a one-percenter, with a risibly generic, outdated grasp of life below the poverty line. He isn’t much better with the lives of the wealthy, who work powerful-sounding but nondescript jobs and see each other off at airport gates as if the Twin Towers still stood. By Perry’s standards, it’s a high-toned production, which means it doesn’t look as if were shot during downtime on a soap-opera set, but it’s still as blurry as a fifth-generation copy.