Martin Lawrence returns from his last half-way decent showing in Wild Hogs to join another all-star cast in Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins. While I don’t doubt his reasons for taking the role (either needed the money or just wanted to get himself into an all black film), I am perplexed as to why some of the more serious actors lent their talents to this run-of-the-mill, offering-nothing-new comedy.
As we’ve come to expect, Lawrence plays the annoying, over-the-top, whiny jackass that has become his trademark. Here he takes on the persona of Dr. R.J. Stevens, a man trying like hell to make something of himself by escaping his past. He’s a successful daytime talk show host akin to Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. He’s also got a best-selling book and a Tony Robbins like self-help program (with its very own mantra of “Team of Me”) that preaches inner confidence and self reliance. Completing his upper worldliness is his relationship to the ultrahot Bianca (Joy Bryant), a woman who takes the never lose attitude to new heights. Yet try as he might, R.J. can’t escape his roots – and they come charging hard and fast at him in the form of his parents 50th wedding anniversary.
Upon his return home, Roscoe Jenkins (his birth name) is immediately besieged by his family. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee takes the easy route by assigning each of the family members a distinct personality that is in stark contrast to that of the Roscoe’s, in an effort to ensure comedy conflict. Brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) is an easy going sheriff, pleased with his simple existence. Brother Reggie (Mike Epps) is a cool talking scam artist. Sister Betty (Mo’Nique) believes she is doing the Lord’s work by sleeping with convicts at the local jail. Cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) always tries to outdo Roscoe, so much so that he brings Roscoe’s first love, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker), to the reunion. Pa Jenkins (James Earl Jones) just disapproves of what his son has become.
So what we’re left with is mostly Lawrence aping like mad for the camera with goofball gestures and facial expressions as he finds himself in off-the-wall family situations. Every once in a while he strikes gold – those moments can usually be found right around the times he gets his ass kicked – but mostly he’s just doing what he does best to no avail. Jones and Duncan are seemingly just there and generally out of their element – they’re simply used to add some aspect of righteousness to the movie. The comedy diamond in this rough, is Mike Epps. His low key demeanor coupled with his attempts to get himself a beneficial angle in all situations make for some very funny scenes. In particular, the scene in which he finds himself stuck in the bathroom with Mo’Nique, covered 75% of the cost of the ticket on it’s own.
What I found equally confusing as some of the casting was the manner in which Lee tried to attach a moral lesson to the ass-end of the movie. From the beginning, we know Roscoe must cast aside the caricature he’s created of himself, but the manner in which it’s done – all jumbled together like jambalaya – tells me Lee didn’t pay much attention to bringing closure to the film gracefully. It’s a shame too. With some minor adjustments (attentiveness to the ending and more original gags), Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins could have been a must see comedy. As it stands now, I’m more tempted to say, “Goodbye Roscoe Jenkins, thanks for stopping by.”