I’ll give Martin Lawrence credit; the dude tries. That’s more than can be said for a lot of so-called comedians out there, but why must he continually subject himself (and us) to these sappy, over-the-top, slapstick-riddled sitcoms-turned-movies? Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins really only differentiates itself from Lawrence’s past few efforts in that it actually teases us by showing signs of caring about its audience. It’s true, writer/director Malcolm D. Lee does pound home a few life lessons, but it mostly comes at the expense of animal attacks, farts, and all-around comedic laziness.
Lawrence plays R.J. Stevens (stage name), a self-help guru who hosts his own Dr. Phil-like show. He’s made it big and is dating Bianca (Bryant), a beauty who once won Survivor and loves the spotlight (though most of it is in her own head). R.J. is all but estranged from his only son, Jamaal (Damani Roberts), but an upcoming family reunion to celebrate R.J.’s parents (James Earl Jones & Margaret Avery) is sure to unite everyone, right? Hardly, as Roscoe makes his way back to the heart of Georgia. His family is a mixed bag of personalities ranging from sneaky to psychotic, and all of R.J.’s dirty laundry is about to be aired out.
Lee overloads the script with so many characters that it’s virtually impossible to keep tabs. There’s Roscoe’s annoying ultra-competitive stepbrother, Clyde (Cedric). And his scheming thief of a brother, Reggie (Mike Epps). And his ever-obnoxious, snickering sister, Betty (Mo’Nique). And the girl he never could have, Lucinda (Parker). Not to mention a host of other undesirables, whose mean streak and competitive prowess serve as the driving point for the entire film: you don’t have to be the best at everything.
In his defense, Lawrence does what he can with the material. He gets a few laughs early on and is at his wiseass best. Then he goes home and becomes nothing more than a piñata for the rest of the family as we get slammed over the head with the theme of family unity. The supporting cast, all two hundred or so of them, is largely wasted as throwaway characters with nothing to spout but continuous one-liners. Epps gets a few laughs as the deranged brother, and James Earl Jones and Michael Clarke Duncan undoubtedly add some class to the proceedings.
As unfocused as most of the film is, it does find its heart towards the end and Lee hits a few nice notes – even after all the pain and suffering that Roscoe endures. You almost have to wonder if the film would have worked better if Lee had tilted the scales more toward drama and taken the comedy a bit darker. There is a good movie to be found somewhere within its confines, but it’s most likely drowned in skunk emissions and dirty panties.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Length: 114 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some drug references.
Theatrical Release: February 8, 2008
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Written by: Malcolm D. Lee
Cast: Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Joy Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, Nicole Ari Parker