Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Lawrence’s new family film delivers the laughs

E-mail this article \ Print this article

David Lee⁄Universal Studios
Martin Lawrence, a Greenbelt native, plays a talk show host and Damani Roberts plays his son in the new comedy, ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.’
I’ll admit I might be a bit tougher on African-American comedies than a lot of genres. That’s largely due to a still meager amount of films starring a predominantly African-American cast that make it to the big screen.

Too few to waste on films like ‘‘First Sunday” and ‘‘Who’s Your Caddy?” that play into all the most negative stereotypes of African-Americans.

On the flip side are highly-entertaining, thoughtful and yes, still funny films such as ‘‘This Christmas” and ‘‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” that prove that African-American comedies don’t have to demean the actors and the audience with buffoonish characters and plots.

In ‘‘Welcome Home,” Greenbelt native Martin Lawrence (‘‘Wild Hogs”) stars as R.J. Stevens, the highly successful talk show host featuring topics and guests that would make Jerry Springer blush.

He’s on the verge of a major power move as he’s gotten engaged to the latest Survivor winner, Bianca (Joy Bryant), a diva who’s still adjusting to normal life and still speaks in Survivor jargon like ‘‘forming alliances” and ‘‘getting kicked off the island.”

R.J.’s parents are celebrating their 50th anniversary and he reluctantly agrees to return home to endure a long weekend with his siblings and cousins where everyone refers to him by his given name of Roscoe, reminding him why he left in the first place.

Chief among his tormentors are his sister Betty (Mo’Nique), mooching cousin Reggie (Mike Epps), and worst of all is his main rival⁄cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) who stole his high school sweetheart Lucinda from him.

Director⁄screenwriter Malcolm D. Lee, Spike’s cousin, is fast becoming one of my favorites behind the camera talents as he brings a consistent level of excellence to his projects and truly understands how to maximize his cast’s talents.

The majority of his cast has been the star of their own films, but Lee gets them to buy into his vision of the greater good.

Lawrence, Cedric, Epps and Mo’Nique especially have been put in projects where they’ve been called on to be the lead character and the main source of jokes. Lee doesn’t ask any one actor to be the star just simply bring their strengths to his ensemble film. Not surprisingly, they all deliver great performances that will have the audience thoroughly entertained and cracking up.

The characters are fully developed, not caricatures. They have their faults that make them pretty funny sure, but they’re also fleshed out enough to be more than a one-note joke.

After spending some time with his family and the now grown up Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker, ‘‘Soul Food”), R.J. begins to wonder if his life is really as successful as he originally thought.

Lee’s script has a nice message to it as well that no matter how ‘‘big” you get, the people you grew up with still know the real you.

‘‘Welcome Home” has big laughs featuring a great cast that’s sure to be a major crowd-pleaser this season.

Rating: Four stars

Welcome home Roscoe Jenkins

Rated PG-13; Comedy;110 minutes

Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Cast: Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Joy Bryant, Mike Epps, Michael Clarke-Duncan, Mo’Nique, Nicole Ari Parker and Margaret Avery