Boo! A Madea Halloween

Herpy Hollerween!

I saw 10 of the 11 movies that Tyler Perry made between 2005 and 2011, then missed the next five (spanning six years — he slowed down!). So I didn’t see it when Madea, the giant sassy Atlanta grandmother who is Perry’s signature character, went into witness protection, or when she celebrated Christmas. Her observance of Halloween, though, is a comforting reassurance that no matter how many films Perry writes, directs, produces, and stars in, he’s not especially interested in getting better at it.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” has the pistol-packing matriarch called upon by her nephew, Brian (also played by Perry), to watch his 17-year-old daughter, Tiffany (Diamond White), on Halloween night while Brian is at work, lest Tiffany sneak out and attend the party at the frat house around the corner. For reinforcement, Madea brings her brother, Joe (that’s Brian’s father, also played by Perry, who is 47), and two other elderly black women, pot-smoking Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis, 52) and barely coherent Miss Hattie (Patrice Lovely, 48). If you’re keeping score, the average age of the three people playing these four elderly babysitters is 49.

Madea and company are in agreement on what the spineless Brian should do to make his daughter obey him: corporal punishment. He needs to spank her, hit her, beat her, whip her, tan her hide, take a switch to her, all of those euphemisms. They are adamant on this point, and wistful about its effectiveness in curbing unruly adolescent impulses. Roughly 40% of the dialogue in “Boo! A Madea Halloween” is devoted to this subject. An observer might reasonably conclude that the reintroduction of spanking into modern parenting is Tyler Perry’s most passionate crusade. (For the record, Tyler Perry became a father for the first time just under two years ago.)

Anyway, Tiffany and her timid friend Aday (Liza Koshy), the pastor’s daughter, do indeed sneak out to the frat party before Madea gets it shut down. After that, spooky things start happening back at home. Could there be a real supernatural presence? Or could it be the frat boys getting revenge on Madea by pranking her? I hope my leading questions have not spoiled the plot for you.

If you’ve seen any of Perry’s previous Madea capers, you know to expect the auteur’s trademark clumsy dialogue, hammy acting, contradictory social messages, and embarrassing minstrelsy. This one adds a bit of tongue-in-cheek Halloween spookiness, and irascible old Joe has gotten bawdier (there’s talk of boob-fondling and ass-tapping), but it still has the requisite maudlin scene where family values are earnestly discussed and the principals (Brian and Tiffany in this case) come away understanding each other better. Perry finds a few moments of real humor (like Madea’s nearly uncontrollable urge to swear in church), but most of it is merely almost funny, like maybe it could have been funny if someone had taken another pass at the screenplay and hired a real director. But hey, woulda, coulda, shoulda, am I right?

C (1 hr., 43 min.; PG-13, some profanity and salty language, and horror images.)