Actor-director-mogul Tyler Perry didn’t come to preside over a vast media empire by paying much heed to the tastes of critics. His 10 feature-film releases to date – churned out over an eight-year span – have drawn mostly jeers from reviewers with his Madea comedies starring Perry in drag as a tough-talking southern matriarch singled out for special scorn. His latest effort the romantic drama Good Deeds isn’t likely to change many minds but it’s not for lack of effort from co-star Thandie Newton whose performance a struggling single mother stands out amidst the film’s otherwise crudely wrought melodrama.
Trading his Madea getup for the less-familiar guise of a leading man Perry stars as Wesley Deeds the scion of a wealthy family and whose lofty expectations have begun to wear on him. Beneath his sheen of polished affluence exists a man who draws little satisfaction from running Deeds Inc. the software giant his father built and who tires of shouldering the demands of his overbearing mother (Phylicia Rashad) the burden of his bellicose and oft-intoxicated bother (Brian White) and the monotony of his loveless engagement to his similarly well-bred fiancé Natalie (Gabrielle Union).
Trapped in a stultifying routine seemingly mapped out for him at birth Wesley longs to escape his gilded prison and trek across Africa on a Harley digging wells with his college buddies. Seriously that’s his dream: digging wells on a Harley.
Situated firmly on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum is Lindsey (Newton). Left alone to provide for her daughter after the death of her soldier husband in Iraq she has little time for fanciful visions of Harley-riding and well-digging. She’s too busy trying in vain to make ends meet as a janitor at … you guessed it: Deeds Inc. Despite her lowly status Lindsey clings fiercely to her independence which places her in stark contrast to Wesley.
Fate all but demands that Wesley and Lindsey make a match but not before their respective plights are established – and re-established – over a prolonged and laborious set-up that drowns in tedious exposition. (The majority of the dialogue in Good Deeds is devoted to affirming the obvious.) The desperate nature of Lindsey’s situation in particular is driven home with wearisome repetition in scene after scene depicting her various indignities suffered at the hands of the System. Newton an actress of impressive range and dexterity brings dignity and pathos to a role that probably asks too much of her.
A more efficient filmmaker might have trimmed a half-hour from Good Deeds’ first half without compromising its story one iota but then again that would only hasten the descent into soap-opera hysterics that marks the film’s second half.
The potential exists in Good Deeds for a thoughtful examination of class divisions within the African-American community – a topic that Perry who rose from poverty to become Hollywood’s highest-paid entertainer is uniquely equipped to explore – but what we get instead is an overwrought hybrid of aristocratic melodrama and How Wesley Got His Groove Back.
An artless aesthetic and narrative inconsistencies attest to the hastiness of the film’s assembly. In one scene Natalie’s flamboyantly effeminate male friend (played inexplicably by comedian Jamie Kennedy) complains that she’s never even mentioned her fiancé let alone introduced them. Yet when he encounters Wesley in quite literally the next scene they appear as if longtime acquaintances. It’s a problem that could have been easily fixed by a quick re-shoot or two but I suspect Perry was already too preoccupied with work on The Marriage Counselor – arriving in theaters less than six months from now – to bother with them if he worried about the issue at all. And if he doesn’t care then why should we?
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Next on "Today": A peek up Katie Couric's butt.
Yes, it's come to this. Just weeks after a pair of total strangers married on live TV in the name of unholy matrimony, America's leading morning-news show is offering up footage of its anchor's recent colonoscopy. The fun started today. More goodies from Couric's electronic cancer screening test are scheduled to air Tuesday.
Top that, Bryant Gumbel.
"Today" "Today's" look-at-Katie's-colon segment is part of the NBC show's weeklong series about colon cancer. Couric knows first-hand how serious the disease is; her husband, NBC legal commentator Jay Monahan, died from it in January 1998 at age 42. Since then, Couric has been championing education and preventive measures to combat colon cancer, which claims 55,000 American lives each year.
This is all well and good, but the question begs: Does America really want and/or need to see Couric's innards?
"We're showing it to demonstrate that there's no reason people should be scared," "Today" executive producer (and fellow colon-cancer patient) Jeff Zucker told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We try to do sit with tremendous sensitivity. We don't show a lot of her colon. We're not going to gross anybody out."
THE GREATEST NUT OF ALL? In New York, Whitney Houston has obtained a restraining order against a 36-year-old woman who says the singer/actress/diva is her, you know, "supernatural reincarnated mother." According to Houston's camp, Desiree D. Weeks began sending rambling letters to the entertainer in August. The missives reportedly referred to Houston's 7-year-old daughter as Weeks' "little sister" and Houston's mother as Weeks' "nana." Authorities says Weeks also sent Houston a four-tiered cake, underwear and other unspecified gifts -- although why you'd need other gifts after scoring a free four-tiered cake, we have no idea.
TEENY-WEENY BOPPER: The ex-drummer for the Bay City Rollers, the 1970s-era, plaid-clad pop group that once dominated the teen-idol press on the (relative) strength of one catchy hit ("Saturday Night"), pleaded guilty to kiddie porn charges Friday in his native Scotland. Police there say they found the offending photos and videos during a raid of Derek Longmuir's apartment. The former teen idol, now in his 40s, most recently worked as a nurse at a local Edinburgh hospital. He'll be sentenced at a later court date. No comment on the case from his erstwhile bandmates. Like the guy named Woody.
GET YER STINKIN' GUN LAWS OFF ME! "Planet of the Apes" survivor and National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston has canceled an appearance today alongside gun-control activist James Brady. Heston was scheduled to take part at a campaign kickoff for Colorado Project Exile, a program aimed at cutting gun-related crime in Colorado. A parent of a child killed in the Columbine High School massacre is also taking part. An NRA spokesman said some last-minute things came up on Chuck's schedule. (Time to reload?)
OSCAR WATCH: Drew Barrymore has been added to the list of celebrity presenters at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards on March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. We're sure the appearance is in no way timed to her upcoming movie "Charlie's Angels." We're sure of that. We think.