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‘Mad Black Woman’ is a bawdy mess

Tyler Perry plays a grandma who likes sassy one-liners
/ Source: The Associated Press

The ads for “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” suggest a re-envisioning of the Martin Lawrence cross-dressing comedy “Big Momma’s House,” or perhaps “Mrs. Doubtfire” tailored specifically for black audiences.

There’s Tyler Perry, the film’s co-star and screenwriter, dragged up in grandma duds, a wig and a fat suit, waving a gun around and whipping out sassy one-liners about how she ain’t afraid of the po-po.

If only it were that simple — or that focused. Kimberly Elise’s character could be talking about the film itself when she writes in her first diary entry, “Looks can be deceiving.”

“Diary of a Mad Black Woman” is indeed a bawdy comedy. It’s also a domestic drama and a love story, wrapped up in Christian proselytizing and gospel music and peppered with jokes about flatulence and marijuana. Oh, wait — there’s also a subplot involving a drug kingpin on trial. And a shooting that leaves a key character paralyzed.

In short, it’s the diary of a mess.

Longtime music video director Darren Grant, making his first feature film, shifts between all these elements with such jarring frequency and disjointed randomness, it sometimes feels as if the reels have been shown out of order.

Example: A character (whom we won’t name) is shot in a crowded courtroom. Screaming and chaos naturally ensue. Cut immediately to Elise as Helen, sharing a tender, intimate kiss with her boyfriend, Orlando (Shemar Moore), the factory worker with a heart of gold who has restored her faith in men.

The transition is almost funny. Except it doesn’t mean to be.

Surely some filmgoers will find affirmation in the film’s message that any obstacle or heartbreak is manageable through faith.

Good for them!

And if anyone can sit through this experience for two hours and come out with something positive, good for them, too!

Perry, who has two other roles in the movie, based the script on his play of the same name, and intended Helen’s story to be a source of inspiration.

Helen is living a life of opulence at the film’s start as the wife of powerful Atlanta lawyer Charles McCarter (Steve Harris). Superficially, they seem to have it all; privately, he treats her with a cruelty that is shocking.

On their 18th wedding anniversary, Charles coldly kicks her out of the house, literally, to allow his longtime mistress (Lisa Marcos) to move in. (The fact that he rejects the beautiful, classy, thoughtful Helen for a bossy hoochie mama in tight, trashy clothes is the least of the movie’s problems).

And so Helen embarks on a journey of rediscovery, finding out who she is on her own after marrying young and deriving her identity from being someone’s wife for most of her life. She gets a job as a waitress. She reconnects with the family members and the old neighborhood from which Charles forced her to distance herself. (Besides playing Madea, Helen’s cantankerous grandmother, Perry also appears as Helen’s cousin and another elderly relative; Cicely Tyson plays the mother she dumped in a nursing home.)

She also learns how to trust again with the help of the sensitive Orlando, who is truly too good to be true, even though his beard, cornrows and perpetual bandanna scream out “bad boy.” (Despite the make-under, the “Young and the Restless” star is a gorgeous creature to behold. It’s no wonder she falls for him — though he does seem to be stalking her at times, and he tries to romance her with cheesy lines like, “I know you don’t believe in fairy tales, but if you did, I’d be your knight in shining armor.”)

If the filmmakers had stuck to this story line, by the way, they would have been just fine. They would have come up with a made-for-Lifetime movie, but they would have been fine.

“I don’t even know where to pick up the pieces of my life,” Helen laments while telling her mother about her failed marriage. “He was my everything.”

“Diary of a Mad Black Woman” tries to be everything too, and ends up getting nothing right.