Since 2005’s Diary Of A Mad Black Woman brought Tyler Perry’s popular stage plays into the feature realm, Tyler Perry has been turning out movies with Takashi Miike-esque speed. But the secret is that Perry never really changes. When you’ve struck oil, why move the well? Yet Perry still makes the weirdest movies in the business, with a tone lurching between broader-than-broad cross-dressing comedy and equally hyperbolic Christian morality plays. It doesn’t stop there. For his latest, Madea’s Witness Protection, Perry casts Denise Richards as Eugene Levy’s spouse, letting audiences assume she’s a vicious, gold-digging trophy wife. But by defying expectations and making Richards a good partner, Perry suggests the far stranger scenario that Levy and Richards, overcoming a 24-year age difference, met, fell in love, and may well resume their vigorous sex lives when their legal troubles are over.
Yet their romantic pairing makes about as much sense as the rest of Madea’s Witness Protection, which finally brings Perry’s Madea character wholly into Big Momma’s House territory with a plot that has her protecting people from the mob. Levy plays a corporate executive set up as the fall guy for a Ponzi scheme that bilked various charity organizations out of their investment money, while doubling as a money-laundering service for a crime family. The FBI offers Levy a chance to avoid jail by cooperating in a case against the mob, but he, Richards, and their family—including two children and Levy’s dementia-addled mother (Doris Roberts)—need protection until after the trial. For that, the agent calls on his aunt, the loveable bruiser Madea, to take in the family and fend off any pesky gangsters. (Another weird thing about the movie: Not a single one shows up.)
Staying mostly on the comedy side of the equation, Madea’s Witness Protection leans on Madea’s usual brassy monologues, which fuse no-nonsense belligerence with a grandmotherly wisdom that keeps her flock in line. Yet the plotting goes pleasantly far afield at times, for instance by having Levy and Madea go incognito as, respectively, a beret-wearing Frenchman with a burgundy suit and curly mustache, and an extravagantly wealthy member of the Jackson Family. There aren’t many laughs in this vaudevillian gambit, and fewer still in the fish-out-of-water comedy of Madea hosting a rich white family that’s chiefly concerned with yoga, wi-fi, and their carb intakes. Still, Perry remains a true outsider artist—nobody makes movies like his. (And please don’t try.)