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In his third gospel-comedy feature—his second as director, and his first without a starring role— actor-writer-producer-director Tyler Perry has finally managed to sustain the same tone for most of a movie. Which is a damn shame: That neck- snapping mash-up of tear-streaked melodrama, love-your-mama sermonizing, and chitlin-circuit vaudeville, coupled with the odd chainsaw rampage or boiling-grits attack, was what made Diary of a Mad Black Woman and the lesser Madea’s Family Reunion so welcome amid the Xanaxed tranquility of the megaplex. Instead, this is 95 minutes of a thin, dully contrived problem drama about a single-dad ex-con mechanic (Idris Elba) whose custody battle with his drug-‘ho ex-wife leads to class-defying romance with his Ivy League attorney (Gabrielle Union). The Atlanta locations are fresh as ever, and all of Perry’s traditional elements are in place, right down to the seemingly incompatible combination of come-to-Jesus altar-calling and cathartic crowd-pleasing violence. But Perry’s indifferent direction flattens everything out: You might fall asleep if his heavy-mitted music cues didn’t keep cattle-prodding your ass. (Dig the Courvoisier-ad slow jam that signals Union’s arrival.) Apart from The Wire‘s Elba, who has a warm, everyguy decency, the cast’s acting is as silent-movie broad as the plotting. And yet Daddy’s Little Girls, with its struggling single parents, rigid class and race inequities, spiritual yearning, and paycheck-to-paycheck scuffling, still bears more relation to most Americans’ lives than anything else in theaters. Come back, Madea, and bring your chainsaw.