U.S. Release Date: February 8, 2008
Distributor: Universal
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Writer: Malcolm D. Lee
Producer: Gary Barber (executive), Roger Birnbaum (executive), Mary Parent, Scott Stuber
Cast: Michael Clarke Duncan, Martin Lawrence, Mo'Nique
Running Time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (crude and sexual content, language and some drug references)

Regional Humor Vehicle Stalls
by Scott Holleran

The latest Martin Lawrence vehicle, the crude and intermittently humorous Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, is like Big Momma's House without the drag. Lawrence has an easy screen presence and his reactive facial expressions can be fun—but only when the material matches and that is rarely the case.

The racial inside joke-driven Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, laden with the N word, is not an exception. Neither too gross nor too slaphappy, this all-star pap is a purely predictable waste of talent, including Lawrence's and those of actors such as James Earl Jones (unforgettable in Martin Ritt's The Great White Hope) and Margaret Avery (one of the best things about Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple). Sometimes it seems like Hollywood studios won't be content until every credible actor has been reduced to a humiliating comic flashback.

Here, Lawrence plays the title character, a successful talk show host who returns to his hometown in the South with his son and his girlfriend. Anyone who's seen Sweet Home Alabama knows that Roscoe will rediscover traditionalist values before the gag credits roll and, frankly, that's another drawback.

The values, as set down here, are neither constructive nor situationally comical. Nothing wrong with mocking sanctimonious vegetarianism, as this does in a scene with finger-lickin' ribs, but their flaws are presented as superior to Roscoe's health-conscious choices (he's in decent shape, unlike his predominantly overweight family). Some cultural jokes work, mostly in the hands of a brother named Reggie, played with good timing by Mike Epps, playing a wisecracker as usual.

Other relatives, all of who appear to live with the 50th anniversary celebratory parents (Earl and Avery), include various types portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan, Cedric the Entertainer and Mo'Nique. Jokes are often nasty and offensive, though some lines work.

They're merely chuckles in a wispy story of a boring family and their supposedly Southern habits. Roscoe's daddy whips him with a belt, his brother steals his girlfriend, and his mother's idea of a good time is a truckload of baked goods from Tuscaloosa. No wonder Roscoe went on to revel in the power of Me not We. The toxic Jenkins bunch doesn't deserve him.

Not that Roscoe's a peach. In fact, he's so conveniently horrible when he needs to be that it's not for a second plausible. He ignores his kid—the son's mother isn't mentioned—and he abandons the boy, which we have no reason to believe he'd do one way or the other. The kid's not in the movie long enough to matter.

That's because director Malcolm Lee (Spike's cousin) spends most of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins on the rivalry between the Cedric character, which could have been cut entirely to make room for more of the Epps shtick, and Roscoe, a conflict that doesn't get enough buildup. Of course, the villain is an uptight girlfriend named Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant), who spars with Roscoe's childhood crush (Nicole Ari Parker).

Animal jokes come into play and, for no apparent reason, so do Pointer Sisters Eighties tunes, which are the best part of this ho-hum homecoming.

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