February 06, 2008

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

I'm stealing this scene, and there's
nothing you can do about it.

Grade: C
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique, Joy Bryant, Nicole Ari Parker, and James Earl Jones
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

There is little terribly original about Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, beginning with the bug-eyed mugging of its official lead, Martin Lawrence. African-American families are shown as a quarreling, dysfunctional lot, prone to massive weekend reunions filled with barbequed swine, fried fish, and dice games. Black men are alternatively stern patriarchs or lascivious young bucks; black women are alternatively serene matriarchs or oversexed, overfed ball-busters (plus toss in the dim-bulb trophy white girl getting in touch with her inner-Mandingo). Indeed, the only remarkable aspect about Roscoe Jenkins is that it is almost watchable.

Lawrence plays the eponymous Roscoe, who hosts a popular daytime talk-show under the moniker RJ Stevens and is engaged to the latest Survivor winner, the statuesque Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant). Roscoe reluctantly sojourns back to his Georgia hometown after a nine-year absence for his parents’ (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) 50th wedding anniversary. There, we meet the vast supporting cast whose round-robin comedy routines supply the film its solitary foundation. Cedric the Entertainer is cousin Clyde, whose long-standing rivalry with Roscoe includes winning over the affections of Papa Jenkins and frustrated love-interest Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker).

Some of the characterizations are delightfully atypical. Michael Clarke Duncan is the hulking brother Otis, whose once-promising football career was cut down by injury and now serves as the county’s sheriff. As constant cousin-on-the-make Reggie, Mike Epps is wisely given wide latitude to interject his offbeat comedy brand – his brief riff on Forest Whitaker is laugh-out-loud. And, the every-improving Bryant, the best actor in the bunch, channels the tightly-wound Bianca as a social-climber who confuses her 15 minutes of reality-TV fame with some sort of celebrity-entitlement.

Unfortunately, for every flicker of entertainment there is dead weight like the comedienne Mo’Nique, whose brassy act is a hit on the stand-up circuit but is just crass here as corpulent sister Betty, who, when not yelling and pointing in people's faces, spends her free time parlaying a prison Bible-study group into conjugal visits.

Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s script is plotless and hopelessly flawed. The lessons Roscoe learns are the typical blah-blah about family values and overcoming the past. But, after watching Roscoe’s successful, lucrative career path juxtaposed with the abuse heaped upon him by his jealous family – e.g., Roscoe is singled out for scolding after winning a kids’ obstacle race his father demands he enter – all we really discover is that Roscoe should scoot out of town pronto and never come back.

By comparison, only the bitchy Bianca makes the dopey, vaguely inbred Jenkins clad look acceptable. Similarly, labeling Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins a good movie would be grading on a curve. Just be happy it earns a passing score, and pass the potato salad.

Neil Morris

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