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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

Most people, I’ve been assured, love family reunions. The opportunity to see family and “shirt-tail relations” you don’t often connect with is supposedly a treat, and when such an event revolves around a specific family milestone all the better. Or so I’m told. In my case, I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than spend even ten minutes with my extended family, and if I was dragged to my in-laws’ for a family reunion, I’d flay the skin from my body to avoid visiting my monster-in-law.
Longtime readers know enough about my family to understand why I feel the way I do. For the rest of you, trust me, and just be thankful if you come from a family like the Jenkins from the movie Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins. They fall into the first category and seem to be a loving and forgiving kind of group, unlike mine where grudges last for decades and everyone comes to a reunion with a covered dish and an unresolved issue to throw on the table.

Unresolved issues are exactly what Dr. RJ Stevens (Martin Lawrence; Wild Hogs) is all about. He has a very successful television program (think “Dr. Phil”) where every day his philosophy of “The Team of Me” is put to use to fix problems between couples or to help individuals build their self-esteem. Dr. Stevens is a media darling, and more so since he became engaged to the latest “Survivor” winner, the beautiful Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant; Bobby), who credited “The Team of Me” as her inspiration in helping her win. Hollywood is his playground, and it is where he is most comfortable.

Unfortunately for him, Bianca makes an unknowing error in accepting an invitation on behalf of both RJ and herself to attend his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration back at their home in rural Louisiana. So despite his protests, off they go, along with his son Jamaal (Damani Roberts; You, Me and Dupree) from an earlier marriage.

What happens when RJ gets off the plane is exactly what he never wanted to happen. His demeanor, his confidence, his very cool factor dissolve in no time as RJ soon reverts into plain old Roscoe Jenkins, the now-grown-up kid everybody made fun of and considered the biggest loser in town. His big brother, and I do mean BIG brother, Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan; The Last Mimzy) may be the sheriff now, but he is still small-minded enough to pick on Roscoe from the moment he steps out of his car. The same goes for his big-mouthed, and I do mean BIG-mouthed, sister Betty (Mo’Nique; Beerfest) who makes it a priority to ridicule him and point out to Bianca what a schmuck she is for hooking up with Roscoe. Cousin Reggie (Mike Epps; Talk To Me) treats him like an idiot willing to be his personal ATM, and worst of all is his Cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer; Code Name: The Cleaner), who is quick to resurrect their 20 year rivalry for a girl, now a woman, that they both loved since junior high school. That woman, Lucinda, (Nicole Ari Parker; King’s Ransom) never knew about the constant betting, fighting, and maneuvering that these two went through as kids to “win” time with her. Now, two decades later, Lucinda is still single, and Roscoe and Clyde fall right back into their old roles, jockeying for Lucinda’s attention.

The parents of this wild brood are played by Margaret Avery (Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns) and James Earl Jones (The Reading Room), two seasoned professionals. Both seem incredibly over-qualified for what is basically a low-brow comedy, which must say something about the drastic lack of quality film roles for African American actors of a certain age. I’m not hating on Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins; I have just seen Avery and Jones excel in vehicles that are far more prestigious than this, and I think they deserve respect for their work ~ something they aren’t going to find in movies like this.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins offers a lot of cheap laughs, especially from Lawrence and Mo’Nique, but it is definitely not a kids’ movie. I was surprised to see that it is rated PG-13 because it is chock full of sexual references, close-ups on women’s breasts and backsides, and includes a couple of gratuitous scenes of hardcore dog-on-dog sex, and more than a few gratuitous softcore man-on-woman and woman-on-man sex scenes. Worst of all is the language. The women call one another “ho” a hundred times or so, and that public burial of “The N Word” last year by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton must not have worked because it’s risen from the grave and is slung around here quite casually. Perhaps writer Malcolm D. Lee didn’t get the notice about the black community’s ban on this epithet but you’d think someone in the cast or on the crew would have objected. Either that or he’d have read about it in the paper. It’s not like he’s been busy. His last produced screenplay was 1999’s The Best Man.

This is the kind of movie in which Lawrence flourishes. I half-expected his mother to be played by Lawrence himself in his Big Mama’s House persona, but I guess he’s left the latex behind for Eddie Murphy to play with in stinkfests like Norbit. Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins may be full of crass stereotypes (big, bullying, sex-crazed sluts; lazy, shiftless, drug-dealing con men; saintly elders with all the answers), but, in spite of the obviously tacky level of comedy, the movie does have several good lessons to offer the viewer about family, loyalty, priorities, and forgiveness.

I wish I could apply these lessons within my own family, but it’s a little bit harder when my family gets together for a reunion. Oh, we may have a family barbeque like the Jenkins, it’s just that at ours, you have to hope you are not the part of the family being barbequed. But that’s a whole other story for a different day.

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