The surprising thing about Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins isn’t its story, a derivative coming-home tale that champions family and community over career, the working class as more decent than the rich, and the country as more genuine than the city. Rather, what’s unanticipated about Malcolm D. Lee’s film is that, despite its narrative staleness and an indulgently long runtime, it’s still not half bad, largely because it places an absolute premium on brash, bawdy humor. It’s a shrewd strategy given that its star is Martin Lawrence, who never met a camera setup he couldn’t exploit for maximum mugging potential. Yet again, writer-director Lee upends expectations by placing Lawrence front and center as a Dr. Phil-Jerry Springer talk show host who reluctantly returns home to Georgia for his parents’ 50th anniversary celebration, and then allowing a wealth of notable co-stars to hog the spotlight. Roscoe Jenkins features a veritable all-star line-up of louder-than-life African-American comedians. While that doesn’t mean it’s consistently amusing—most set pieces flounder, the characterization of Lawrence’s Survivor-winning wife (Joy Bryant) is broad even by the film’s silly standards, and Lawrence’s predilection for bug-eyed facial contortions remains tiresome—the collection of strong supporting players does infuse the proceedings with a consistent boisterousness. There’s nothing original about the script’s configuration of conflicts, but Lee is wise enough to let his performers play to their strengths, which means that Lawrence is buffoonishly cocky, Cedric the Entertainer is absurdly suave, Michael Clarke Duncan is burly and intimidating, and Mo’Nique is sassy, profane, and prone to shake her big booty at a moment’s notice. Trading back-and-forth barbs and riffing in ridiculous directions, the cast helps enliven what’s otherwise simply another soggy family reunion melodrama, especially Mike Epps, who as Lawrence’s shady cousin provides the biggest surprise of all by just being honest-to-goodness funny.
- Malcolm D. Lee
- Malcolm D. Lee
- Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Joy Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, Nicole Ari Parker, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo'Nique
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