The grim reaper needs to fire his agent. Though the humanoid manifestation of death has drawn acclaim for minor yet memorable roles in such fine films as The Seventh Seal and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, he’s now been reduced to slumming it with a cameo in Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, a sequel so wholly anodyne that it doesn’t even deserve its exclamation point. We know Death’s got range—the guy’s a consummate pro, comfortably shifting between drama and gallows humor—but writer/director/star/despot Tyler Perry proves unable to meet him halfway with a film funny or frightening enough to give his estimable talents a workout. He simply materializes and stands idle, looking every bit as hopelessly out of place among his surrounding mediocrity as Anthony Hopkins dodging Decepticons.
Or as Madea herself might say, “Get that name outcha mouth ’fore I smack it out for ya.” The famously cantankerous matriarch’s distinctive speech pattern singlehandedly props up this film’s tired approximation of levity, the lone source of laughs in what we were told would be a comedy. The enduring hilarity of Madea’s funny-talk is chief among a handful of truths that her franchise holds as immutable: the absolute sanctity of family and religion, respect for even the most ill-tempered elders, the unfailing foolishness of white folks. The franchise can graft these notions onto any milieu or genre Perry figures he can wring a few bucks out of, from jail to witness protection to Christmas, and, only last year, Halloween. But because that film ended up as the second-highest-grossing in the Madea cycle, the sequel mandate couldn’t be avoided. So here we are again, trick-or-treating at the house that gave out raisins last time around, hoping against hope.
Perry clearly subscribes to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy of filmmaking, returning to the previous installment’s tack of pitting Madea and her geriatric peanut gallery (Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, and Chandra Currelley-Young) against folks in generic slasher getups. The homicidal clowns have been replaced with a PriceRite version of Sadako from The Ring and a Leatherface/My Bloody Valentine miner hybrid, and former star Bella Thorne has left for Netflix-er pastures, but all else remains unchanged. Madea’s still an accessory to a story that’s ultimately focused on the bond between trying-his-best single dad Brian (Perry again) and prissy teen daughter Tiffany (Diamond White). And true to form, Madea’s here to cock-block her granddaughter.
Tiffany’s just turned 18 and she can’t wait to give it up to hulking fratster boytoy Jonathan (Yousef Erakat). Directly after receiving the keys to a new car from her pushover mom, much to Brian’s chagrin, she speeds over to the local Upsilon Theta house with a pair of friends (Inanna Sarkis, providing the de facto voice of reason, and Lexy Panterra, who puts her well-documented twerking talents to good use in one party montage) to sexually offer themselves to their crushes. What luck! The boys are throwing a giant Halloween bash up at the old murder lake that very night, which should be a perfect cover for their furtive copulating. If nothing else, and there really isn’t much else, this feature provides a startling glimpse into the interiors of Perry’s imagination. Though he pulls triple duty on screen by appearing as Uncle Joe, a living dispenser of one-liners about weed and ass, his estimation of youth culture has all the alarmist naïveté of an after-school special.
Horny teens, lake, killers: We all know the steps to this age-old danse macabre, and Madea doesn’t even get that much time out on the floor. So many minutes get whiled away with setup, let-the-camera-roll riffing among the senior cast members, and interludes away from the action that the actual deadly pursuit feels more like an extended set piece. But maybe that’s apropos, seeing as this whole rigamarole only serves to bring Brian and Tiffany closer together. The final act—spoiler alert, for anyone who might still give a shit—reveals that the night of spine-tingling terror Tiffany and Madea have survived was all orchestrated by dear old dad as an instructive prank, in what must be the single most involved J. Walter Weatherman lesson ever. And that’s why you don’t try to lose your virginity!
Maybe there’s an interesting statement about the generational differences between puritanical parents and their boundary-testing progeny buried in here somewhere. Maybe there’s a halfway competent horror movie hiding behind a re-edit or eight. Maybe this will be a springboard for the fledgling movie career of bit player Mike “Dom Mazetti” Tornabene, the only one who seems to be committed to his role as a hard-skulled dumbbell. These are the thoughts one entertains while watching a movie too insubstantial to fully occupy a brain at rest. You wonder if it’ll make enough money to get you back in the theater for a Boo! 3 at this time next year. You make a mental note to look up Perry’s scheduled projects once you’re out of the auditorium. You’ll see that Madea’s next outing on the docket is 2018’s A Madea Family Funeral, and you’ll let out a little sigh, knowing Death is still cashing these easy checks.