Film Review: ‘Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween’

Boo! A Madea Halloween Authorized by variety

Tiffany (Diamond White), the spoiled princess heroine of “Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween,” is 17 years old, which means that she must have been around five when Perry’s first movie came out. It’s a sign of how the world has evolved since then that “Boo!” opens with a sequence set in a mostly white fraternity, Upsilon Theta, on the day of its annual Halloween bash. Tiffany, trying to win the approval of her two older (white) friends, will wind up sneaking out of her dad’s house, joining the party, and narrowly avoid being pounced on by Jonathan (Yousef Erakat), the frat leader who looks like a geek Vin Diesel. But there isn’t a moment in any of this that revolves around so much as a buried hint of race. (Unless, of course, you count the fact that half the film’s frat boys talk like “gangstas.”) It’s simply a non-issue. And that, you might say, is progress.

Of course, this being a Tyler Perry movie, there’s another place where the world hasn’t changed much (or at all), and that’s the world occupied by Tiffany’s grandmother, Madea, that old-school badass frump hellion who, as a character, never gets old. It has something to do with her rage, and with how quickly she talks: Perry, done up in pearls and a dress of crimson paisley large enough to house a refrigerator, plays Madea, as always, by ripping through his lines as if the character’s very existence depended on her beating everyone to the punchline. No one speaks as fast as Madea: not her relatives, not the assorted innocents she browbeats into submission, not the popo. She may look like a stodgy Church Lady, but she’s a bawdy homespun terrorist with the street in her blood — in “Boo!,” she’s always referencing her younger life “on the pole” — and she’s not ashamed of anything she has ever done.

The film’s tone is set by a chat she has with her two friends, the genteel but dope-smoking Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) — who keeps her prescription card in hand! — and the infantile Hattie (Patrice Lovely), along with Madea’s husband, Joe (also played by Perry), that’s all about the vital importance of corporal punishment. “Whup ’em,” says Madea. Or as Hattie puts it, in her outrageously lispy baby talk: “Whup. Dat. Ath!” “A little love-tap never hurt nobody,” says Madea. Brian, Madea’s adult son (the one character played by Perry out of disguise), might beg to disagree. The beatings he endured from Madea traumatized him, and so did the moment when Joe tossed him off a roof and a pencil got lodged in his testicle. “Looked like one of those Tootsie Rolls!” smirks Joe. The audience is rather tempted to take Brian’s side on this. Yet Perry has never put Madea up on screen to demonstrate that she’s wrong. “Boo! A Madea Halloween” preaches the importance of stern discipline that new dads like Brian have lost. It’s another of Perry’s raucous and slovenly comedies of responsibility, which means that its heart is in a very old-fashioned — and right — place. If only a message that solid equalled solid laughs.

The movie, set on what Madea calls “Holler-een,” comes on like a hip-hop frat-house party comedy. But then Madea crashes — and ruins — the party. It gets shut down by the popo, and the frat dudes extract their revenge by taking advantage of the fright-night holiday to scare the holy Jesus out of Madea and her old cronies. They don’t have to put on much of a show: The whole joke is that Madea, beneath her cranky bluster, is full of fear, which is what growing up with the po-po will do to you (now there’s a nuance of race). All the frat boys have to do is to send one of them into Madea’s home dressed as a killer clown, or chase after her on the road like zombies. I wish I could say that she lived up to the movie’s ad campaign by retaliating with a chainsaw, but that image is not in the movie.

The actors playing the old folks are at times inspired, though you wish that their material had been more shaped. Patrice Lovely inhabits the old, bent, lusty Hattie with a deep-down sneakiness and a voice like a siren, and Perry makes the happy-to-be-disgruntled Joe a character worthy of Eddie Murphy in his prime. Madea, at this point, is beyond a character; she’s a force, the whirlwind who keeps on giving (even if her ability to really surprise us left the building long ago). Poor Tiffany, on the other hand, is a heroine in search of a third dimension, though the way that her brattishness gets a comeuppance is finally touching. “Boo! A Madea Halloween” isn’t really in favor of a good whuppin’. It’s just in favor of parents taking back their authority in a way that they seem to find increasingly hard to do. That’s a message so eminently sane that it could — and should — have been a self-help book, instead of a comedy impersonating one.

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