George Needleman has it all: a huge house, a beautiful wife, two semi-adorable children and a paycheck that would feed an African village. He's the chief financial officer of a huge investment firm and in charge of the money funneled to dozens of charities.
All he has to do is not watch the books. That's right, not watch them.
You see, George's boss is running a Ponzi scheme through the company's charitable wing—a scheme that involves people riding motorcycles and wearing leather jackets and sticking up their thumbs while saying, "Ayyy."
Sorry. Scratch that. Got my schemes messed up. No, a Ponzi scheme involves soliciting massive sums of money from investors, living lavishly for a while and—in this iteration—fleeing the country and making sure some poor sap takes the fall. A sap named George Needleman who, despite being the CFO and all, never really noticed that his boss was buying yachts with other people's yen.
And for poor ol' clueless George, the news gets worse. Of the 72 charities supposedly bilked, only a dozen were actually real. The other 60? Money-laundering fronts for the mob.
George is in serious trouble.
Oh, he'd like to help the long arm of the law reach out and touch his boss. He'd like to avoid a mob hit for ratting the scheme and schemers out. But all of this involves finding someplace safe to hole up until he can piece together the messy financial maze in front of him.
Alas, all the regular safe houses have been infiltrated by the mob. So where can George Needleman and his family go? Who can possibly keep him, his wife and children safe from hit men who want him dead?
Look no further than a certain heat-packing, muumuu wearing, temper-flaring, urban-proverb-spewing 6-foot-4, 250-pound African-American woman by the name of Madea.
Like a large and cranky Mary Poppins, Madea floats into theaters periodically to rescue families from themselves, their bad decisions and their reprehensible behavior. She doesn't use a spoonful of sugar to do it, though. She's more a forkful-of-bile type of gal, flogging victims with her acidic tongue. A good role model she is not. Still, in her own oversized way, Madea does try to help those who might need a little tough love.
For instance, Madea encourages George's wife, Kate, to "speak her d‑‑n mind" (not good) which empowers Kate not to let her disrespectful stepdaughter, Cindy, walk all over her (good). She tells Cindy that her whole family has died (not good), so when she discovers that they're still alive, she appreciates them that much more and becomes a nicer person (good). And when George tells Madea her lie was cruel (which it was), Madea's defense is that it worked (which it did).
And that's what Madea's all about, really: She demands respect. Madea doesn't accept excuses for bad behavior and insists people shoulder more responsibility. In a world of sneaky snakes and innocent doves, Madea is an abrasive, overweight mongoose, ready to pounce on anything with scales. And there's something to be said for that.
We also see George stand up not just for himself, but for others' interests too. He grows more attached to his disenfranchised family, going so far as to join his wife for morning exercises and playing catch with his neglected son. And, as a result, the whole family is happier than before.
Christian faith is nearly always represented in Tyler Perry's movies. Even his movies about Madea.
Some of the money lost in the Ponzi scheme came from a local church—money the church was hoping to use to pay off its mortgage. The pastor's son, Jake, was in charge of the investments and can't bear to tell his ill father that the money's gone. Jake has always been a troubled lad, and his father is always praising God for bringing Jake back into the light. The loss of the church's nest egg, Jake believes, would crush his father.
Thus, during a church service where George is present, the pastor brings Jake up to (he thinks) tell the congregation how he worked to pay the mortgage off. He introduces him as someone the Lord considers "precious," and the word sparks a sudden epiphany in George, who now knows how the money was being hidden. "Precious!" he shouts. "I know!" The rest of the church thinks George has been smitten by the Holy Ghost (an impression encouraged by Jake).
George's semi-senile mother, Barbara, gushes over Negro spirituals (sometimes, embarrassingly, dropping the word spirituals), and we hear portions of a couple of them ("Ride On King Jesus" and "Oh Happy Day").
God's providence is referenced, and several characters use His name partly as sincere petition, partly as an off-hand profanity. Kate does yoga.
When Barbara meets Madea's housemate and brother, Joe, she keeps referring to him as "the man on the boat." We learn the two of them had an intimate interlude 50 years before—a rendezvous that Barbara suggests resulted in George's conception. Barbara flirts with Joe throughout the film. "You want to give it a go?" she asks at one point.
Elsewhere, Joe ogles Kate as she does yoga. He asks George whether he wishes Kate's rear was bigger, and he makes (in pantomime) a crude question regarding the size of his anatomy. Other allusions are made to critical male and female anatomical parts. We hear references to Madea's past work as a prostitute, stripper and exotic dancer. An airport security agent touches Madea's breasts and rear, prompting Madea to suggest they should've had a cigarette or drink afterward. She makes crude comments when she's in an airport body scanner. She flirts with a banker and frets about her breasts strangling her in the night. Several references are made to men being raped in prison. One comment evokes the sex trafficking of minors.
Kate tells George she wants to have more sex. Madea threatens to strip and join George in bed. George's boss references having slept with many women to get to the top of the company, including women whose obesity negatively affected his libido (which he describes in crude anatomical terms).
A would-be thief demands money from Madea while he's in the back of her car, holding a gun to her head. Madea refuses to submit and drives like a madwoman, nearly causing several accidents and whipping her assailant back and forth across the backseat.
Jake tries to beat up George but is held back by Brian, an assistant district attorney. Someone slaps Brian across the face. The mob sends the Needlemans a dead rat. George worries his car may be booby-trapped.
Madea throws water on Cindy and later tells the girl that her father died in a multi-car pileup, that her stepmom was killed by a helicopter blade and that her brother was killed by the mob and now "swims with the fishes." Madea mercilessly insults her brother, whom she repeatedly wishes was dead. We hear that George's first wife tried to kill him.
Crude or Profane Language
Mild profanity is pervasive, with more than 70 uses of "h‑‑‑," 20 of "a‑‑" and a dozen or so of "d‑‑n." We hear "b‑‑ch" and "p‑‑‑." God's name is misused about 25 times.
Just as problematic as these words themselves—and perhaps more so—is that they're integral, in Madea's mind, to doing the right thing. For instance, when Madea tells Kate that she needs to stand up for herself when Cindy insults her, Kate insists that she does "speak her mind." "Speak your d‑‑n mind," Madea corrects, before breaking out into a long litany of vulgarity-laced suggestions about what it looks like to do so. In this sense, Madea implies that if a person's sentiments aren't peppered with profanity, they're not strong enough to get someone's attention.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jake hints he's smuggled drugs aboard a plane. Madea longs for a joint while flying, but settles for a drink. When told that alcoholic beverages are free in first class (where she's sitting), she asks the attendant to bring her one of everything.
George gives his mother a handful of prescription medications. Later, when George has an anxiety attack, Kate suggests he take one of his mother's Valiums. We hear joking references to selling drugs. We see a bottle of champagne and hear a reference to it.
Other Negative Elements
Cindy is incredibly disrespectful to her family. Her half-brother, Howie, "sucks" and is "stupid, like his mother," she spits. Cindy says she hates her stepmother, brother, father and "old people." As so often happens to characters like Cindy in Tyler Perry's films, she eventually recognizes the awfulness of her attitude. But her attitude is awful for much of the film nonetheless.
Jake was planning to rob thousands of old women to pay off his church's mortgage. And while he doesn't exactly lie to his father about losing the church's money, he never quite comes clean either.
[Spoiler Warning] In an effort to undo the effects of the Ponzi scheme on its victims, George and Jake hatch a plan to funnel the ill-gotten gains back into the pockets of the charities. And while that's a good thing, it's also illegal: The government, it's suggested, would typically lock down any account associated with such a scheme and decide what to do with the money in its own time. So while the elaborate plot that George, Jake and Madea execute may satisfy our emotional sense of justice, legally and ethically it's still wrong. Onscreen, all is forgiven in the end because of the good press the stunt generates. Moreover, Madea—unbeknownst to either Jake or George—funnels some of the money into her own account, undercutting the film's own message. She also steals hotel pillows.
Racial jokes are made.
Every few months it seems, Tyler Perry once again trots out his larger-than-life alter ego, Madea. Loyal fans buy tickets and keep Perry flush with cash. And rarely, it would seem, do they leave the theater disappointed. Madea movies, after all, are like dinners at Denny's: You always know what you're going to get.
And what do fans get? Bite-sized nuggets of morality dispensed by one of the big screen's most morally muddy protagonists—a woman who's admitted that she won't go to church for fear of being struck by lightning. They get walloping dollops of language fired from Madea's mouth as if from a Gatling gun. They get references to drugs and sex and stripping and prostitutes. And they always get a happy ending.
Madea herself would tell us that if we don't like what she has to say, we don't have to listen. That we can just push through those theater doors and not let 'em hit us on the way out. And I guess that's probably true.
It's too bad, though, because sometimes Madea has some interesting things to say. It's just the way she chooses to say them.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Tyler Perry as Madea, Joe and Brian; Eugene Levy as George Needleman; Denise Richards as Kate Needleman; Doris Roberts as Barbara; Romeo as Jake; Danielle Campbell as Cindy; Devan Leos as Howie
Tyler Perry (Good Deeds, Madea's Big Happy Family, For Colored Girls, Why Did I Get Married Too?, I Can Do Bad All by Myself, Madea Goes to Jail, The Family That Preys, Meet the Browns, Madea's Family Reunion)
June 29, 2012
Paul Asay Paul Asay