[Screen It]

(2005) (Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris) (PG-13)

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Drama/Comedy: A woman tries to come to grips with the fact that her husband of eighteen years has just kicked her out of the house for another woman and wants a divorce.
Helen McCarter (KIMBERLY ELISE) would seem to have it all -- a huge house, an even bigger bank account, and a successful lawyer for a husband in the form of Charles (STEVE HARRIS). Yet, despite their appearances and 18-year marriage, he treats her like dirt in private and has fathered several children with Brenda (LISA MARCOS), his lover of the past several years.

Helen suspected but is still shocked by this, but not as much as when Charles kicks her out of the house and wants a divorce. Since she signed a pre-nup that leaves her nothing and he alienated her from her friends and family over the years, she has nowhere to go, much to the concern of Orlando (SHEMAR MOORE) who's been hired to transport her and her belongings wherever she wishes.

Upset over what's occurred, Helen sees the amiable Orlando like any other self-centered man and makes him leave. Desperate for a place to stay, she arrives on the ghetto doorstep of her gun-toting and highly opinionated grandmother Madea (TYLER PERRY) who allows her "dirty old man" brother Joe (TYLER PERRY) to live with her.

Madea forcibly confronts Charles in his home, wanting revenge on him, but ends up jailed and then under house arrest. Helen tries to get her life back in order, all while dealing with her conflicting feelings toward Charles who has his own problems when a former acquaintance, Jamison Jackson (GARY STURGIS), orders Charles to defend him in court regarding his arrest for shooting an undercover cop.

Those aren't the only family issues, as Helen's sister Debrah (TAMARA TAYLOR) is a junkie who's been kicked out by her husband, Brian (TYLER PERRY), for putting him and daughter Tiffany (TIFFANY EVANS) through so much. With the advice from her nursing home resident mom, Myrtle (CICELY TYSON), as well as Madea, Helen tries to figure out what to do, a choice that becomes more complicated when she starts falling for none other than Brian's friend, Orlando.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
It's the stuff of near Hollywood legend, and at minimum, it has the makings of an interesting sounding movie. A playwright struggles for years without success, including a stint of being homeless (talk about your starving artist) while trying to attract audiences to his work. Then, the right person walks in at the right time, becomes a backer and then when the sparsely received play is about to close, it suddenly becomes a sell-out attraction. The rest is history as the playwright goes on to great success.

The curtain drops and that would seem to be the perfect Cinderella ending for Tyler Perry's story. Who knows how much of that's true and how much is hype, but it's a great underdog tale. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. Using one of the works that propelled him to stardom in the theater world -- "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" -- Perry now hits the big screen in the film of the same name where he not only serves as the screenwriter, but also appears in the roles of three separate characters.

The result is a mess of a movie, a dramedy that misfires in just about every way imaginable. As directed by Darren R. Grant (making his feature debut), the film lurches back and forth between melodrama and romance to the film world's view of black comedy (meaning race and not edginess).

Given the title and general premise, I was expecting far more than what the film delivers, at least in terms of quality. Of course, the title could elicit ugly stereotypes of women of that race. Unfortunately, that's exactly what it offers, although that's far truer regarding the "comedy" than the drama.

Apparently thinking he's the next Eddie Murphy and/or Martin Lawrence, Perry not only plays a regular guy, but also a stereotypically lecherous old man (like Murphy's done) and a large, highly opinionated black grandmother (think of "Big Momma's House").

"She," of course, is really just Perry in drag, but here's the weird thing -- that's not part of the plot (as in being a guy in disguise). Instead, it's an ego trip gone dangerously out of control with the writer apparently thinking he's a hoot playing that part. Methinks he's probably alone in that assumption. In fact, he -- and thus the picture -- is so bad that I'd rather sit through a double feature of "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" and "Black Knight" before stepping anywhere near this travesty again.

Yes, it's that bad. While I rarely want to leave any film during its screening, this was one of the exceptions. The problem is that the drama doesn't fare much better than the purported comedy. While not quite of the "what were they thinking variety," it's just as messy and unbelievable as its genre counterpart.

The filmmakers could have gone the pure Lifetime TV route or a black comedy one along the lines of "First Wives Club" or "The War of the Roses." Instead, they went for over the top melodrama and unconvincing romance where the various elements of both don't ever seem or feel believable. In short, the material -- whether the one-dimensional monster husband character, the way the protagonist treats her knight in shining armor (and the fact that he lets her) or subplots featuring a junkie sister, criminal suspect and more -- just doesn't gel.

Everything feels discombobulated and random, resulting in it being difficult for the viewer to get involved in the story, the main character or her plight. Even the voice-over narrated "dear diary" bits don't add anything to the offering in terms of exposition, insight or charm, and they only occasionally appear.

Considering all of that, the subpar direction and character construction, the performers don't have a chance of succeeding in their respective parts. That includes Kimberly Elise ("The Manchurian Candidate," "Beloved") as the jilted wife; Steve Harris ("Bringing Down the House," "Minority Report") as the one-dimensionally mean husband, or Shemar Moore ("The Brothers," "Hav Plenty") embodying the guy who's too good to be true (in terms of looks, demeanor and most every other aspect).

Cicely Tyson ("Because of Winn-Dixie," "Sounder") makes a brief appearance, but can't save this mess, while Lisa Marcos ("The Gospel of John") and Gary Sturgis ("Blaze") can't do anything with their caricature parts. And the less said about Perry in his triad of roles, the better, although he's passable in regular guy mode.

While the film has some interesting points to explore -- including forgiveness and redemption -- and ends on a strong religious point, none of that means it's automatically good. Clunky in execution when not a cinematic travesty in the making, this is a mess of a film that doesn't work on any level. You should give a wide berth to this "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." The film rates as a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed February 7, 2005 / Posted February 25, 2005

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