I prefer my Martin Lawrence humiliated, emasculated, and speechless. Fortunately, "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" appreciates these very same concerns, kicking around the comedian in what amounts to a slightly ludicrous, slightly bloated, but overwhelmingly good-natured comedy of the broadest kind.
Roscoe Jenkins (Martin Lawrence) is a successful trash T.V. host with a trophy girlfriend (Joy Bryant) and a flavorless, Hollywood life. Called back to his rural Georgia home for the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery), Roscoe is reintroduced to the insecurities and rivalries he held as an angry teen. Now, surrounded by his hot-blooded family (including Mike Epps, Michael Clark Duncan, Cedric the Entertainer, and Mo'Nique) and confronted with a lost crush (Nicole Ari Parker), Roscoe has to decide if he will retreat to his isolating fame and fortune, or if he wants to confront the person he once was and heal old wounds.
I have to give credit to writer/director Malcolm D. Lee for charging ahead with "Jenkins" and feeling brave enough to manufacture a slapstick comedy that, for the majority of its running time, doesn't break down into melodrama and remains consistently funny. This is the guy who made "Undercover Brother" after all, so hopes were not high for an evening of smiles.
I suppose if one squints hard enough, the comparison to Tyler Perry's brand of southern-fried family reunion insanity could be made, but truly, "Jenkins" is its own creation. It's not unique or clever, but it's comfortable with itself, and that counts for something. Lee has a vision for the piece and he sticks to his guns, pushing forward with massive displays of silliness, mostly centered on the continual beating of Roscoe at the hands of his brothers and sisters, and trusting his cast to improv like heavyweight champs and offer comedic reactions with Kabuki-like enormity.
"Jenkins" remains agreeable due to the excitement of the actors, who look as though they are having a ball. It's a joy to see Duncan be playful for once, while Cedric, Epps, and Mo'Nique all take turns leaping off the page and chewing some scenery. It all boils down to Lawrence, who is revisiting a character he hasn't played in forever: the humbled loser. As the straight-man of the film, Lawrence is the perfect sponge for the troupe's energy, batting the laughs back in smaller, but effective doses. Only in the final act does the old in-control Lawrence comes painfully strolling out, but up to that moment, it's the most infectious, relaxed, giving performance the actor has offered the screen since he spun records as Bilal in "House Party."
"Jenkins" isn't all roses. Lee chokes down a little too much wacky with sequences involving flatulent yoga, two utterly mismatched dog lovers, and the hysteria of Roscoe's girlfriend, played with vigor by Bryant, but written far more shrill than necessary. I also wasn't thrilled with some hokey melodrama in the final moments that shuts the film down to a dead stop. Lee softens the blow with a sweet group-hug ending, but "Roscoe Jenkins" is a comedy, and a pretty decent one at that. To assume the audience is hungering for more soulful nutrition from a movie where dogs have sex in the cowgirl position nearly destroys the surprisingly digestible experience.
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