Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
It is only natural for anyone to want to succeed, to move beyond the life that your parents provided to you. It is a major aspect of the American Dream to be driven to move beyond your roots and on to a much better life. This human inclination has been the main theme of many stories in literature and film. Now, there is a new addition to the list, ‘Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins’. Unfortunately it is not able to move itself beyond its predecessors. The film starts out with a strong premise, a successful man returns home to the Deep South to reunite with his family. It is in the execution that the flick ultimately falls flat. It is much like a person telling a joke where the setup pulls the listeners in by the man is unable to deliver the punch line properly. One paper the movie looks as if it should work well. The cast is proven, the writer slash director is capable of creating as funny film and the story is interesting. It just doesn’t gel properly and the audience is left wondering what happened instead of laughing. There is nothing wrong with a silly movie. Many of the best comic flicks are in this category. This film just doesn’t pass muster and that is a shame and a waste of a lot of talent.
The film was written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee. He is a relative newcomer to the business and hopefully learned a lot here. He did direct the fun satire, ‘Undercover Brother’ and both penned and helmed the mildly successful ‘The Best Man’. As the writer of the flick Lee paints his characters with a far too broad a brush. There is no details allotted them; they remain only caricatures and stereotypes. This is ultimately a story about a successful man and how he considers his family embarrassing. The pay off to a movie like this has to be his ultimate realization that he has to accept his family as they are and love them because they are his relatives. Without any depth to the characters this goal cannot be satisfactorily achieved. There is nothing shown in either the man or his family that allows the audience to see the qualities deep instead that can reconcile them to their successful member. Lee also attempts to throw in a little romantic plot line but once again the lack of character definition denies the audience the opportunity that would make them concerned about what happens. The humor in the flick is puerile and for the largest part all been seen before.
As a director Lee shows promise, based on his previous work, but doesn’t do much with this project. The pacing is uneven, overly frantic and manic then lapsing into plodding pseudo emotionalism. This is the fundamental problem here. Lee is trying to combine two extremely dissimilar genres; slapstick and romance. It is not as if this hasn’t been done before, Charlie Chaplin managed it extremely well back before films had soundtracks. Lee did a lot better with the over the top farce ‘Undercover Brother’ where the slapstick was the focus and the film worked. Lee just needs to work more on his change up and smooth out the pacing and he should be a director to watch. Lee is also up against a lot of competition in this film. Tyler Perry has already done several films concerning the reunion of a wacky African American family. He has this particular sub genre so well covered that it is nearly impossible for a new director to make his mark there. Credit has to be given to Lee for an admirable try even if the results are less than hoped. To be certain there are some moments in the flick where you can’t help but to laugh. The talented cast helped a lot even if this was not he best material to showcase their abilities.
RJ Stevens (Martin Lawrence), actually Roscoe Jenkins, is a PhD and famous television talk show host. The show is a combination of Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil. He is an ascorbic, no nonsense and self confident in most aspects of his life. His rise to fame was mostly based on his self help program which has caught on with millions. The basis is the ‘Team of Me’, a self-centered pop philosophy that has served him well. Stevens is fast to point out the flaws in others and provide his views as solutions. He is engaged to a renowned supermodel Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant). Aside from her fame in modeling she is notable to many as the young woman who won ‘Survivor’ by trading her panties for food. He has nit given much thought to his family back home in rural Georgia in a long time. That place does not hold the best memories for RJ. He was frequently the butt of every joke and the target of all the bullies in town. The last thing is would ever want is to return there. Then he gets the news that his parents, Papa (James Earl Jones) and Mamma (Margaret Avery) are holding a family reunion to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Reluctantly he packs up is hyper competitive girl fiend and his often neglected ten year old son, Jamaal (Damani Roberts) and heads back South to face is past. He is certain that now that he is rich and famous everyone will have to finally respect him. He soon finds that nothing could be further from the truth.
Even though it has been nine years since he was last home for his relatives it is as if no time at all had past. His cousin Clyde Stubb (Cedric the Entertainer), had always managed to out shine Roscoe. In their youth no matter how well Roscoe did Clyde always did better. Now Clyde is a rich and successful owner of a car dealership Roscoe is certain that he finally won out. Roscoe’s older brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) is a mountain of a man who typically bullied the young Roscoe. Now he has been elected the town sheriff. Another cousin, Reggie (Mike Epps) is a man who always has a scheme afoot. Having Roscoe back in town starts the wheels spinning with every sort of machination possible. Also there is Roscoe’s gossip prone sister, Betty (Mo'Nique). She is even more in love with hearing herself talk than Roscoe. He also reunites with the girl he had his first crush on. Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker). Now she is a beautiful young woman who wound up with Clyde. It is tempting to Roscoe to try to win her back once he gets to compare her with the superficial Bianca.
The cast here is undeniably extremely talented. Martin Lawrence has been successful in films, television and as a stand up comedian. The problem he has with this role is he is used to playing the most unlikable characters possible. Here he has to be the man who picked himself by his bootstraps and finally learn humility. Like several of the comedians here Lawrence is no stranger to working with very adult language. Here there is a sprinkle of such language but they had to stay within the confines of the PG-13 rating. If Lee made the decision to go for broke and make it an ‘R’ rated flick it may have fit better to that genre. Duncan is simply an incredible actor with amazing range. He can bring an audience to tears or provide belly laughs. In this film he has little to show his range and the only thing highlighted is his size. Cedric The Entertain is the perfect foil for Lawrence’s character and the two deliver some of the best slapstick thee movie has to offer.
This movie is released to DVD by Universal and it is well mastered. There are some extras such as extended and alternate scenes, a different opening and some outtakes. The film is entertaining for a beer and pizza night with friends. What works is we all have relatives somewhat like the ones shown here and that connection is made.