Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Starring Martin Lawrence, James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Joy Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, Nicole Ari Parker, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique. (2008, PG-13, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Feb. 8, 2008
If you had told me before I walked into the screening of Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins that hyperactive comedian/actor Lawrence would be the quiet center of the movie, I probably would have laughed in your face, then taken your temperature, as would any reasonable soul within earshot. Up to this point, Lawrence’s film career – from House Party to Bad Boys to Big Momma’s House – has been built on the premise that, in comedy, less is always less and that the best way to keep people’s attention is to be the loudest person onscreen at all times. And though Roscoe Jenkins is hardly what you’d call subtle, most of the film’s most boisterous, most scatological moments are left in the hands of other actors. They include Epps, who plays a morally defunct con man with a passion for all things kink, and Mo’Nique as the beyond-voluptuous sister of the film’s title character and one of the most perfect examples of self-indulgent, self-righteous id to come out of Hollywood in years. Lawrence, meanwhile, is actually the soul of endearing insecurity (with exceptions made for the occasional overblown sex scene or desperate fist fight). He plays Jenkins, a hugely successful daytime-TV “doctor” with a Jerry Springer-like talk show who returns home to rural Georgia for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, only to discover that, despite his fame, fortune, and newfound urbanity, around his family he’ll always feel like a petulant teenager. Poor Roscoe is treated to the scathing attacks (both verbal and physical) of various siblings, the abiding disappointment of his father (Jones), and the sight of his childhood sweetheart, Lucinda (Parker), arriving for the weekend on the arm of his childhood antagonist, cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), who is a living, breathing, guffawing reminder of Roscoe’s failures and barely disguised self-contempt. At its best, Roscoe Jenkins is about the crushing influence of the past and one man’s attempts to free himself – by hook, crook, or Hollywood – from underneath it. At its worst, however, the movie is content to just explore the apparently infinite comic potential of dogs having sex, people getting sprayed by skunks, and men getting beaten up by overweight women. In other words, Jenkins suffers from an epic and disappointing case of schizophrenia; it’s capable at times of real subtlety and warmth and humanity but not confident enough in itself to stay away from fart jokes or empty acts of sassiness for very long.