The writing-directing work of Tyler Perry knows not the meaning of low-key. The comedy is broad, the overstated melodrama typically skyrockets to 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, there's usually a subplot about a mentally or physically abusive relationship, and figurative skeletons in the closet are bound to come to light by the third act. The grinding of these formulaic wheels are readily in evidence, and much of the time it results in unintended humor (e.g., 2006's "Madea's Family Reunion
") or outright interminability (e.g., 2008's "Meet the Browns
"). Based on Perry's 2006 play of the same name, "Madea Goes to Jail" faithfully follows most of these commonplace traits, but for the first time in Perry's "Madea" movies he demonstrates a modicum of restraint. There are still the occasional overacted, overwrought moments, but the film as a whole has an involving tone and a pace so breezy that its 109-minute running time positively flies by. So what if the short-tempered, law-breaking Madea (Tyler Perry) doesn't actually find herself in the slammer until the 70-minute mark? By then, many viewers will be enjoying themselves so much they'll be surprised that over an hour has already passed by.
Over the years, Madea has gotten out of a great many run-ins with the law. With her rap sheet reading like a grocery list, however, she finally ventures one step too far after destructively taking matters into her own hands when a lady steals her parking spot at the local Kmart. Meanwhile, when attorney Joshua Hardaway (Derek Luke) runs into childhood best friend Candace (Keshia Knight Pulliam) at a court hearing, he is saddened to discover she has given up her education and turned to prostitution. He reaches out to help her and make her see that she is wasting her potentialpossessive fiancée Linda (Ion Overman) is none too pleased by thisbut Candace cannot let go of a traumatic experience from their past that she has let define her path as an adult. Just as Madea arrives in prison, so, too, does Candace, sentenced to five to ten years on a number of stacked bogus charges. As Joshua slowly begins to realize how deceitful Linda has been, Candace experiences an epiphany about her future and seeks to set things right.
"Madea Goes to Jail" will never be accused of being great cinema, but it serves a specific purpose as a fun diversion. In this regard, it works. Tyler Perry's Madea alter ego is at her willful, hot-to-trot best, and Keshia Knight Pulliam (2005's "Beauty Shop
" and TV's "The Cosby Show") brings a touching, wounded conviction to Candy, who isn't nearly as tough as she tries to outwardly act. In a wackily inspired supporting turn, Sofia Vergara (who would go on shortly after to TV's "Modern Family") plays Madea's bunkmate in prison, T.T.the most cheerful serial killer who ever lived. As Joshua, Derek Luke (2012's "Sparkle") is likable, but overdoes a late dramatic scene with far too many soap opera histrionics. Naturally, he takes way too long to recognize how rotten Linda is, though her eventual comeuppance (set at their wedding, of course) is a crowd-pleaser for sure. A half-silly/half-moralistic story about how it is never too late to turn things around, "Madea Goes to Jail" is as wispy as whipped cream, but also as easy to consume.