MADEA’S WITNESS PROTECTION
Lionsgate Films, Rated PG-13
Changing things up substantially, and we’re not just talking his usual protagonist and gender switch-ups, writer/director Tyler Perry crosses over into white character driven comedy with Madea’s Witness Protection, and the results are not half bad, posing rather new and different, but never dull, predicaments for both Perry as a filmmaker, and his reigning alternate senior citizen persona on screen, Madea.
Wall Street meets the Deep South, or rather collides, in Madea’s Witness Protection, as George Needleman (Eugene Levy), the unusually wealthy accountant at a New York City investment bank, suddenly finds himself the fall guy for an in-house mob Ponzi scheme when the stocks hit the fan. Stuck with taking the rap for his colleagues, counting a ruthlessly scheming Tom Arnold, Needleman faces the bad news from Atlanta prosecutor Brian (Tyler Perry) that he either fess up or squeal to the feds about mob money laundering, and enter the witness protection program for the duration of the subsequent trials.
With not much of an option at hand, Needleman packs up his fretting wife (Denise Richards) and kids more used to an upscale lifestyle, and submits to witness protection arrangements provided by Brian. Which to everyone in question’s mutual dismay all around, turns out to be the Atlanta home of Brian’s Aunt Madea (Perry) and Uncle Joe (ditto Perry).
So begins Perry’s obvious amusement and sustained infusion of tangy wit, as he mines the cultural and economic but primarily racial clashes and divides—but in mostly delicate PG-13 terms—that have long plagued this nation as quite a toned down Madea plays Mom to just about everyone else. Which tends to confine the proceedings to mostly standard when not just plain silly sitcomish dysfunctional national family antics.
That is, until a sidebar plot centering around illegally swiping funds from a bank account back in New York City kicks in, so that everyone fleeced to begin with can be happily reimbursed, which affords Madea/Tyler not only an opportunity to double up in the undercover disguise department, but breathe fresh laughs into the dramedy involving a couple of other culture clashes as well—Madea negotiating the unfamiliar turf way outside her comfort zone of an invasive airport pat-down, along with exceedingly unfamiliar luxury hotel dining and toileting customs.
Tyler Perry’s venture into unfamiliar racial territory with Madea’s Witness Protection goes down exceptionally easy when not typically over the top with a charmingly sweet and sour, more buoyant than boisterous Perry this time around, confidently and playfully at the helm.