OCTOBER 30, 2016
It probably won't surprise you to know that I've never seen a single Madea movie, or even anything that Tyler Perry has directed at all (my lone exposure to him was Alex Cross, in which he only starred), so it should go without saying that I only made an exception for Boo! A Madea Halloween was because it looked to be a horror-comedy in the Ernest Scared Stupid/Transylmania kind of vein, i.e. taking existing characters and putting them into a horror setting for one reason or another. But while I had fun with my introduction to Madea (more on that soon), I feel I should warn anyone who might be curious - the ads are kind of a giant lie. Not only does the horror part of the movie (i.e. what the marketing exclusively focused on) only comprise maybe 30 minutes in the back half, but (spoiler, in the purest technical sense) it's also all fake.
To be fair, I wasn't surprised at that - even if no one died, going by what I know of the Madea universe (I read Evan Saathoff's book on the subject, in fact!) it'd be weird to introduce zombies and ghosts to it, even as strange as it gets with its non-supernatural narratives. I fully expected a Scooby-Doo moment where we learn all of the things haunting her all evening had been a ruse, and don't hold it against the movie for going that route. I DO, however, get annoyed that they tell us it's all fake before anything even happens! Madea's antics cause the frat party we see in the trailer to get busted up by the cops, so the frat guys say "We're gonna go get her back!" or something, at which point the "hauntings" begin. Worse, the reveal is equally half-assed - Madea runs from the "zombies" into a church where she is told almost instantly that it's all fake, by a character we haven't even seen before. I mean, there's April Fool's Day, and then there's this.
Plus, as I mentioned, this stuff barely takes up a third of the 100+ minute film. After that early fake-out bit with the clown (also in the trailer), nothing "scary" happens for like 45-50 minutes, to the point where I actually forgot I sat down for a horror-comedy. Until then it functions as a standard comedy about a man (named Brian, also played by Perry) who is having trouble disciplining his 17 year old daughter and calls on Madea for some help. There's a half-baked subplot about the daughter's friend being a good girl Catholic that isn't exactly stoked about going to a frat party, and other diversions like that, but they all function as a means to get Madea yelling at and/or hitting anyone who doesn't share her philosophies. This is best exemplified early on, when Madea first arrives at Brian's house. For reasons I can't discern, she brings along three pals (including Joe, another character played by Perry) and after an endless scene where they each enter the house and sit down, we are treated to an even more endless scene (over 15 minutes, no lie) of the four of them mostly just yelling at Brian for not hitting his daughter. Apparently Madea and Joe (his father, if I'm following things correctly) both subjected him to horrible abuse as a kid, and as Joe explains, he's "not dead", so their methods are proven right and should be continued.
(The idea that their horrible abuse left him so weak-willed and is thus the reason his daughter can walk all over him is never considered.)
The ghost stuff has mostly been shown on the trailer; in fact the trailer actually offers more. Jigsaw does not call Madea in the movie (that phone call scene is in it, but it's her pastor calling her for a donation), and even those establishing shots of a Haddonfield-y town aren't in the movie. But the rest - TV's turning on, Madea being chased, etc. are all there, and all after we've been told it's all a prank, so they're hardly exciting. I was actually more interested in seeing how they explained the "ghost writing" on the mirror, as that's not something I'd expect some dumb frat guy to figure out (the rest is chalked up to "they hacked into the electrical and plumbing" or something equally "whatever, movie"), but they never do. However, by that point I had gotten used to Perry's... let's be kind and say unusual method of filmmaking, so it's not like I was angry when the credits rolled and I still hadn't gotten my answer.
So it's a total wash as a horror comedy, as even if the material was legit it would barely cover the runtime of a TV special. However, as a viewing experience, it was utterly fascinating to me. Again, I've never seen any of Perry's films, so if you're an old fan (ironic or not) this is nothing new, but to my fellow newcomers - holy shit. From Evan's book I knew that Perry was incompetent at certain basic elements of filmmaking, but to actually see it in action (during its 2nd weekend at #1 at the box office, no less) is completely different. Perry frequently laughing (even breaking character slightly) at his lines or the antics of his co-stars, as if the idea of simply cutting and starting a new take never occurred to him, is actually kind of endearing after a while, not unlike an SNL host or cast member trying/failing to hold it together when something goes awry. Less endearing is his inability to use split screen, something you'd think would be a given when he plays three characters, but apparently he figured body doubles would suffice. Alas, they do not, and some of the biggest laughs in the movie involve the non-Perry actors trying their hardest to keep their faces out of the camera (keep an eye on "Madea" endlessly rummaging through her bag when we can see Joe on the other side of the frame).
He also has unusual ideas of how people act. The frat guys are ridiculous and overly obnoxious, which I thought was intentional (they're morons!), but when they panic over discovering that Brian's daughter and her friend are only 17, I had to wonder if Tyler Perry had actually ever met a male college student in his life. Later, Madea goes to the frat house and the guys at the door demand to see her breasts, in a manner that would have you considering the horndog characters in things like Porky's were being far too subtle (this scene also shows off another of Perry's non-skills as a director, clearly zoomed in from a much wider shot, and not even centered properly, as if they were trying to cut people out of the shot intentionally), which is followed by more non-human behavior when they actually go inside (to find the daughter, who managed to sneak out somehow). The dialogue often seems to have been run through a babelizer, and plot points that I thought I was just hazy on because it's technically part 9 of a series turn out to be just bad writing. For example, Brian's wife is no longer in the picture, something I assumed was explained in an earlier film, but apparently it wasn't - they were still together last time, but this movie doesn't explain their separation until near the very end (she cheated on him, apparently), and the kids are played by different actors and have barely aged since they last appeared 11 years ago in Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
All that said, I actually had a good time watching the goofy thing. Laughing with, laughing at... it didn't really matter after a while; I was by myself (and, not that it mattered, but pretty much the only white guy in there), something that I sometimes feel self-conscious about at a comedy since someone just sitting there alone is different than someone laughing alone, but after a while I forgot about that and just enjoyed myself. There's a weird bit where Joe over-pronounces the word "Prostate" for some reason that had me howling, and later he inexplicably breaks the 4th wall (I assume?) to inform us that Madea is "a dude", which I cackled at for a solid 10 seconds. Honestly, even though it's what I was there for, I had more fun with the regular comedy scenes than the "horror" stuff, and it inspired me to finally get around to seeing some of those other films (I'm told Mad Black Woman, Why Did I Get Married, and Madea Christmas are the ones I should zero in on for the full experience, if time doesn't allow me to watch them all). There's something undeniably entertaining about the shoddiness and insanity that Perry puts on-screen, seemingly unaware that he's doing it. It's like a child using swear words - you don't want to condone the behavior, but it's also kind of adorable. And with the others, I will sit down knowing exactly what kind of movie I'm about to watch, without feeling cheated like I did here.
What say you?