While visiting the Georgia homestead of her fiancé’s family, bony Bianca (Joy Bryant), a model who clawed her way into the spotlight by winning a Survivor competition, spits out her future sister-in-law’s ice tea and calls it “liquid diabetes.” The same label applies to this comedy, but that’s okay because its sweetness is cut by tart chicanery. Although not necessarily good for you, it’s tasty and will make you laugh. Numerous African-American filmmakers have been tinkering with their own recipes for movies that convey a positive message and crack audiences up. In Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Malcolm D. Lee gets it right by not holding back. He heaps on the trash talking and truth telling while refraining from excessive or unearned sentiment. Most of it is spot on and hilarious, if occasionally too raunchy for the entire family to enjoy together. And the internecine clash depicted between coastal elites and down-home folk goes beyond race to address universal themes about culture and family, so it’s more than a guilty pleasure like sweet tea.
Lee casts talented performers, which elevates his material and serves to underscore the lesson that sugar and spice come in all sorts of packages. For example, thin Bianca should know better than to sniff at Roscoe’s plus-sized, sex-craved sister Betty
(Mo’Nique). We learn she’s capable of taking down any man. Mo’Nique unleashed is certainly a highlight, but Martin Lawrence also excels as TV talk show host and self-help author RJ Stevens. The Team of Me is the title of Roscoe’s bestselling book and the philosophy he embraced when he left the Deep South and changed his name. With his neglected son and bridezilla-to-be in tow, he returns home to Georgia for the first time in years to help celebrate his parent’s 50th anniversary. Awaiting are crazy cousin
Reggie (Mike Epps), successful Cadillac dealer Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), disapproving dad (James Earl Jones), high-school sweetheart (Nicole Ari Parker) and all the fattening foods emasculating Bianca has made him swear off. Roscoe pretends he’s in control yet isn’t, of course, until movie’s end.
Lee doesn’t bother with an intricate or unique storyline. His direction is succinct and he doesn’t belabor anything. There’s a Meet the Parents moment when Roscoe clocks his mom with a softball. There are humping dogs, crotch pain and a skunk gag, along with some dialogue too crude to repeat. Flashbacks to Roscoe’s childhood rivalry with orphan Clyde, who’s also his cousin and whom Betty has the hots for, are well executed. The script is full of amusing cultural references regarding the media, clothing, cars, and cuisine. Whether you think Lee is trafficking in or tweaking stereotypes, it’s undeniably funny. The picture ends with obligatory stuff about Roscoe being a good father, staying true to his roots and not forgetting where he comes from. Viewers should have no problem remembering the Jenkins family.
Cast: Martin Lawrence, Margaret Avery, Joy Bryant, Louis C.K., Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker, Cedric the Entertainer and James Earl Jones
Director/Screenwriter: Malcolm D. Lee
Producers: Scott Stuber, Mary Parent and Charles Castaldi
Rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some drug references
Running time: 114 min.
Release date: February 8