Film Review: Madea Goes to Jail

King of all media Tyler Perry gives fans what they want: irreverent, pistol-packin' big momma Madea, who's going to make those confused, disrespectful young people see sense if she has to slap it into them.

Miss Mabel "Madea" Simmons (Tyler Perry) is—as always—in a mess of trouble, because she just doesn't know how to suffer fools. Not gladly, mind you, just without making the kind of scene that winds up on the local news. This time she's ordered to undergo anger-management therapy, and if she doesn't go, her next stop is the big house.

Meanwhile, bright young assistant D.A. Josh Hardaway (Derek Luke) is shocked to find childhood friend Candace (former Cosby kid Keshia Knight Pulliam) under arrest on prostitution charges. He hasn't seen her in five years, when she dropped out of college, and there's something in their shared past that compels him to bail her out, buy her lunch and make her swear that if she needs any kind of help she'll call. None of this sits well with Josh's snooty fiancée, fellow assistant D.A. Linda Davis (Ion Overman), and the resulting tension puts a severe strain on the wedding plans, especially when Josh lets Candy sleep on his couch after she's been beaten and raped by a sadistic pimp.

As all this heavy drama is unfolding, Madea reluctantly reports for anger-management counseling and so infuriates her therapist (Dr. Phil, in one of the film's many celebrity cameos) that he refuses to see her for a second session. She then gets into a parking-space dispute with a skinny rich bitch outside Kmart, and settles the matter by taking a forklift to the woman's sports car. Madea is hauled into court again, but this time it's Judge Greg Mathis (as himself) presiding, and it's off to the DeKalb County lockup for her. And that's where all the plot strands come together: Candy is there, along with her hooker friend Donna (Vanessa Ferlito), who's actually cleaning up her act, and pavement preacher Ellen (Viola Davis), who ministers to prisoners and, at Josh's request, tried to help Candy before Candy was ready to help herself. Let's just say that Madea's special form of tough love wins over fellow inmates as diverse as cheerfully nutty serial killer T.T. (Sofia Vergara) and butch Big Sal (American Gladiator Robin Coleman), allowing her to talk some much-needed, no-bull sense into the lot of them.

Madea Goes to Jail raked in the biggest opening-weekend gross of any Perry film since his first, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, proving that it's hard to go wrong giving the people what they want. Madea is the spoonful of sugar (okay, maybe more like the 10-gallon bucket) that makes the melodrama go down, and where else are you going to see Whoopi Goldberg (with “View” co-hosts Joy Behar and Elizabeth Hasselbeck) and Rev. Al Sharpton gamely contributing fake sound bites about the gross miscarriage of justice that landed a man in a fat suit and housedress in a ladies' slammer?