How can movies perish with entrepreneurs like Tyler Perry around? Actor-drag-queen-director-producer-studio-head, Perry is a one-man (sometimes woman) entertainment industry.
He's written, directed and produced 28 plays and movies since 1999. Starred in most of them, too, playing as many as three parts; though Perry is probably best known for his ongoing female character, Medea – a charging, wide-hipped church lady who by her own count has trampled 17 no-good husbands.
The main attraction in seven Perry films, Medea has helped her creator amass a rising fortune. Forbes reports Perry made $130-million (U.S.) in a 12-month stretch beginning in May, 2010. He is, the magazine says, the highest paid entertainer in the world.
A self-declared ambassador of Christ, Perry wants you to succeed, too. Maybe that's why so many fans show up at his films. All Perry's movies are healing affairs, with just enough butter on the popcorn to make Sunday morning feel like Saturday night.
Like all Perry's work, Good Deeds is about people in trouble. Lindsey Wakefield (Thandie Newton) is a poor, too-proud single mom, a night janitor without a roof over her head and Child Welfare nipping at her heels.
Her employer is Wesley Deeds (Perry), a fifth-generation, African-American Ivy Leaguer who is trapped living out his parents' dream.
Yes, they fall in love, but not before teaching each other Valuable Life Lessons. "You spend all this time making other people happy, you need to go out and find what makes you happy," she tells him.
"When it all comes down to it, life isn't about how much we get, it's about how much we share," he tells her.
Good stuff to know, for sure. And Good Deeds is more proof that Perry is a crude dramatist. Every time Wesley Deeds says something meaningful, he takes off his glasses and the camera pulls in close so we can dive into our tortured businessman's sad spaniel eyes.
Still, Good Deeds' affection for its characters is infectious. Thandie Newton is a compelling, likable entertainer. And Phylicia Rashad scores in a jolting cameo as Wesley's chilling, impervious mom – Claire Huxtable crossed with a widow spider.
The movie comes alive when Wilimena Deeds is onscreen, misbehaving. Because otherwise, there are too many characters walking around wearing goody two-shoes. And way too much talk about sacrifice and self-improvement.
In addition to writing plays, movies, TV shows and books, Tyler Perry is also a self-help guru who has been known to say things like, "Don't wait for someone to green-light your project, build your own intersection." That lecturing tone creeps into Good Deeds early on and lingers.
What the film needs more than anything is Perry's alter ego, Medea – a rampaging bowling ball who might knock all these stiff, upright characters spinning.
Special to The Globe and Mail
- Written, directed and produced by Tyler Perry
- Starring: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union and Phylicia Rashad
- Classification: PG
- 2 stars