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The Independent Critic

Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Mike Epps, Mo'Nique, Michael Clarke Duncan, Joy Bryant, Nicole Ari Parker, Margaret Avery, Cedric the Entertainer
Malcolm D. Lee
Rated PG-13
 "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" Review 
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A funny thing happened on the way out of the movie theatre...

Martin Lawrence was funny again.

No, really.

Mo'Nique? She FINALLY showed cinematic potential with a performance that capitalized on her stand-up persona.

The underrated Mike Epps? Freakin' hilarious with touches of downright sweet.

James Earl Jones? Well, um, he is James Earl Jones.

In short, "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," the latest film from writer/director Malcolm D. Lee ("Undercover Brother," "Roll Bounce"), is a surprisingly funny and occasionally heartwarming film that manages to rein in its cast of stand-up comics into a simple story that works far better than one might think.

Martin Lawrence plays RJ Stevens, an enormously successful Hollywood talk show host whose Dr. Phil style and "Team of Me" philosophy has made him a Hollywood darling complete with new fiancee Bianca (Joy Bryant, "The Hunting Party"), a "Survivor" winner most famous for giving up her panties for a chocolate cake.

When RJ, known as Roscoe Jenkins by folks back home, is called back home by his family to celebrate his parents (Jones and Margaret Avery) 50th wedding anniversary, Bianca decides it'd be the perfect ratings boost and off they go to small-town Georgia and, of course, to RJ having to deal with his playa' cousin (Epps), brother turned sheriff (Michael Clarke Duncan), opinionated sister (Mo'Nique) and his childhood archrival who was raised by the family, Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) and who has seemingly won the affection of RJ's first "love" Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker, TV's "Soul Food").

If you enjoy Tyler Perry films and can take Lawrence's trademark over-the-top humor in small doses, then you are likely to find much to enjoy in "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," a film that purports to celebrate the importance of family even while, at times, making the Jenkins family a family that practically nobody would want to go back home to.

We learn quite quickly that RJ's "Team of Me" philosophy was borne out of his childhood playing second fiddle to Clyde, raised by RJ's parents after his own died while he was still young. It's easy to see why RJ would feel small in this family, with a behemoth brother, a majestic father and a louder than life sister.

While Lawrence contains his over-the-top nature surprisingly well, he doesn't quite possess the acting chops to make the transition from RJ to Roscoe completely convincing. While Lawrence can play the wounded man/child quite nicely, much like how Steve Carell struggled in "Dan in Real Life," when he's forced to play simply sincere it rings a bit hollow given the enormous build-up Lee's script gives it. This is especially true in the film's later scenes involving his own son and in a far too pat anniversary reception.

Indianapolis native Mike Epps' turn as RJ's playa' cousin is bound to remind you of that relative who shows up at every family gathering, usually hoping to sponge some cash or sell you on another "great deal." Vastly underrated, mostly due to selecting lesser film projects, Epps is a scene-stealer here with a performance that bounces over-the-top several times yet gets so many laughs that it works anyway.

Mo'Nique, on the other hand, is constantly over-the-top as RJ's bible-totin', thong showin' sister who ain't afraid to go whup ass on her baby brother. Mo'Nique, unlike Lawrence, manages to show off her sincere side alongside her improvisational skills in the film's latter half.

Largely relegated to underwritten supporting roles, James Earl Jones adds depth as RJ's father and Avery adds her usual maternal flair. Nicole Ari Parker gives one of the film's few grounded performances as the object of RJ's affection, while Bryant is more than appropriately sexy and bitchy as his "Survivor" queen. Cedric the Entertainer makes the most of a one-note role, though falls uncomfortably short in the previously mentioned anniversary reception scene.

Lee's script occasionally falls flat and goes for the easy laughs. I mean, really, does contemporary cinema really need a new addition to the "sprayed by a skunk" hall of shame?

Um. Nope.

Yet, more often than not, Lee's approach is similar to that in "Roll Bounce," a film where he beautifully blended comedy, sincerity and genuine relationships.

While "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" isn't a brilliant film, it is an entertaining film with a surprising abundance of laughs that hit the mark and a strong chemistry between its ensemble cast that keeps the film watchable even as it drags on a bit too long.

Rated PG-13, the film pushes the envelope a bit and parents who relent and bring small children to this "family comedy" may have some explaining to do on the way home.

While Tyler Perry wasn't nearly as entertaining once he took the dress off, Martin Lawrence springs back to life with Big Momma in the background and RJ Stevens at the forefront.

David Newman's original score perfectly accentuates both the film's more frenzied and subtle moments, while the film's production specs drive home both RJ's "fish out of water" presence and the small Georgia town's down-home feeling.

Welcome back to decent cinema, Martin Lawrence.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic