Tinseltown always gets surprised when a Tyler Perry movie — or any movie made by a black filmmaker and/or starring a black cast — becomes a multiplex hit. That's true no matter how many times it’s happened before — Boo! is actually Perry’s fourth-best opening ever. So he knows how to put asses in seats, and it’s not just the black churchgoing crowd. I recently had a white friend from Texas tell me that she and her family adore Madea and her antics. Hell, that brilliant Black Jeopardy! sketch from last week’s SNL acknowledged Perry’s crossover appeal, with Tom Hanks’ Southern Trump supporter proudly declaring he bought a Madea box set at Walmart.
It’s easy to see why Perry could bring both black folks and white folks together at the movies: Big guy + dress = laughs. Madea is a character in every sense of the word: an uncouth, uninhibited, smack-talking heathen of a woman with a foul mouth, a bad attitude, a never-ending arsenal of weapons and an impressive rap sheet. She's a lovable fool, reminding audiences of their own crazy relatives.
The latest installment has Madea coming to the aid of her nephew Brian (also played by Perry) when he asks her to watch over his bratty teenage daughter Tiffany (Diamond White), who’s itching to sneak out and go to a Halloween frat party. Madea shows up with her whole crew, including weed-smoking cousin Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), frisky friend Hattie Mae (Patrice Lovely) and Brian’s crotchety dad Joe, who is — of course — played by Perry.
It all turns into a ghettofied version of a Marx Brothers movie, with Madea, Bam and Hattie Mae continually shaking in their stockings as Tiffany and other young pissants try to spook them. But since this is a Madea movie, you can expect our heroine to occasionally retaliate by socking whatever freakish creature dares come face-to-face with her upside the head. Since this is still a Tyler Perry production, a heartwarming message about the importance of family — or something like that — gets slipped in near the end.
Boo! is certainly the most watchable Madea movie I’ve seen in a long time, even though I get the feeling Perry still doesn’t know how to direct for the screen. Ever the playwright, the man still writes and stages one-location scenes like they’re for the stage — and they go on forever. The one where Madea and her crew show up at Brian’s house runs so long that, as the old industry joke goes, I thought I was watching a pilot.
Perry's Madea comedies are certainly easier to take than his melodramas, which tend to focus on a conflicted black lady either losing her way, getting her heart broken by a dark-skinned dude (and immediately getting her groove back with the help of a light-skinned dude) or — in the case of the memorably extreme Temptation — getting AIDS from a Lucifer-type brotha. The Madea films' combo of breezy silliness and warmhearted sentimentality cuts across demographics, and even the people who accuse Perry of pandering to the church crowd with his cross-dressing nonsense can’t knock his hustle. Every time he puts on that wig and dress, he’s doing something even our presidential candidates can’t: bring people together.