The high incidence of film-critic suicides in the months of January and February is attributable to movies like “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” a rancid, unfunny disaster full of embarrassing performances and shamefully simple-minded comic notions. It’s a movie seemingly made by dumb people, for dumb people.
R.J. Stevens (Martin Lawrence), a Springer-style daytime talk-show host, is newly engaged to a gorgeous “Survivor” winner named Bianca (Joy Bryant), and is filthy rich besides, with a great life in Hollywood. He and Bianca travel to his hometown of Dry Springs, Ga., for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and naturally his huge extended family is down-to-earth and rural, and maybe a little suspicious of the Tinseltown big-shot that R.J. has become.
That’s a solid comedy premise: small-town boy makes good, turns into a different person, then comes home for a reality check. The clashing of two worlds, Hollywood and the boonies, has often been the source of cinematic laughter. But here it’s squandered by a large ensemble of unbelievable characters with unbelievable motivations — one-dimensional chess pieces that the movie can move around interchangeably, depending on the needs of the plot. The film turns a very real and relatable situation into something foolish and implausible.
R.J.’s cousin Clyde (Cedric The Entertainer) has always been his rival, and the two have a tiresome series of petty arguments and competitions that are revived when they are reunited. The chief sticking point is that years ago Clyde stole a girl named Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker) from R.J. Lucinda is now at the family reunion for some reason (seriously, why is she there?), and since R.J.’s fiancee Bianca is a shallow, opportunistic witch, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out R.J. will eventually dump her for Lucinda.
In the meantime, there are shenanigans. Oy gevalt, the shenanigans. R.J. has a giant brother named Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) who beats up on him! He also has a slutty sister named Betty (Mo’Nique) who talks dirty and can’t seem to get Bianca’s name right! There’s a big ol’ farm dog that gets it on with Bianca’s froofy little lapdog! R.J. runs afoul of a skunk!
A skunk, ladies and gentlemen. You paid $10 to see Martin Lawrence get sprayed by a skunk.
R.J. also has a smooth-talking con-man cousin named Reggie, played by Mike Epps, who is evidently the black version of Robin Williams. He’s permitted to ad-lib a lot, and he’ll rattle off “jokes” a mile a minute, none of them funny but all of them delivered really fast so as to give the illusion of humor. Between Epps and the ironically named Cedric The Entertainer, how many incoherent improvisational comedians does one movie need?
That the movie stars Martin Lawrence — who has never starred in a live-action film that was any good, EVER — is no surprise. He is as rubber-faced, cross-eyed, and incompetent as ever. But I’m disappointed that it was written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, whose 1999 debut “The Best Man” was serviceable, and whose subsequent directorial efforts “Undercover Brother” and “Roll Bounce” had some measure of quality. His first screenplay in nine years and THIS is what he comes up with? Half-baked old comedy retreads and immature sight gags?
I laughed once during the film, but it was at something that was supposed to be Very Serious and Important. It’s the part where R.J., finally succumbing to Bianca’s cutthroat influence, leaves his young son Jamaal (Damani Roberts) behind during the family’s annual obstacle course race in order to beat Clyde. R.J. wins the race, yes — BUT AT WHAT COST??? Jamaal is disappointed in his father’s betrayal, and the rest of the family stands around eyeing him coldly and disapprovingly. The musical score plays the Sad Music. And I laughed. It was the one good laugh I had for the entire misbegotten two hours.
D- (1 hr., 53 min.; )