I’m tougher on African-American comedies than a lot of genres. That’s largely due to a still meager amount of films starring a predominantly African-American cast that make it to the big screen. There’s just too few to waste on films like First Sunday and Who’s Your Caddy? that play into all the most negative stereotypes.
On the flip side are highly-entertaining, thoughtful, yet still funny films like Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins that prove that African-American comedies don’t have to demean the actors and the audience with buffoonish characters and plots.
Martin Lawrence (Wild Hogs) stars as R.J. Stevens, the highly successful talk show host featuring topics and guests that would make Jerry Springer blush. The self-help guru’s creed is the Team of Me, which has helped him scale and conquer every obstacle he’s encountered.
He’s on the verge of a major power move as he’s gotten engaged to the latest Survivor winner, Bianca (a game Joy Bryant in a welcome switch from her normal good girl roles), a diva who’s still adjusting to normal life and still speaks in Survivor jargon like ‘forming alliances’ and ‘getting kicked off the island.’
R.J.’s parents (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) are celebrating their 50th anniversary and he reluctantly agrees to return home to endure a long weekend with his family. Back home, the name that would open all kinds of doors and special perks, has no merit and everyone refers to him by his given name of Roscoe, quickly reminding him why he doesn’t visit often.
His top tormentors are his sister Betty (Mo’Nique,) mooching cousin Reggie (Mike Epps), older brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) and worst of all his main rival/cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) who stole his high school sweetheart, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker), who is that flawless girl next door that Roscoe wishes didn’t get away.
Cedric has a fun supporting role as the one-upper cousin who’s the kind that no matter what you’ve done, he can find a way to do your story one better.
Director/Screenwriter Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man, Undercover Brother) — Spike’s cousin — is fast becoming one of my favorite behind the camera talents as he brings a consistent level of excellence to his projects and truly understands how to maximize his cast’s talents.
Lawrence, Cedric, Epps and Mo’Nique especially have been put in projects where they’ve been called on to be the lead character and the main source of jokes, but Lee doesn’t ask any one actor to be the star — just simply bring their strengths to his ensemble.
Not surprisingly, they all deliver great performances that will have the audience thoroughly entertained and cracking up.
This helps Lawrence especially since when he tends to go overboard trying to carry films when the burden on being ‘the funny one’ is solely on him. This was a smart and welcome look at another side of Lawrence, who keeps all the charisma and likability from his early roles, with the maturity to grasp the importance of picking his spots to get the best results.
Lee’s script is on point as well with characters that sound real and not just character types. They have their faults that make them pretty funny, but they’re also fleshed out enough to be more than a one-note joke.
The film’s message is simple, but works thanks to its larger than life cast — no matter how ‘big’ you get, the people you grew up with still know the real you. And after an hour with this crew, I’m definitely game for the next family reunion.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: David Lee/Universal Studios