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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008 09:51 am

Hello, sweetheart — get me rewrite!

Superficial Martin Lawrence flick could have used some tweaking

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Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins Running time 1:45 Rated PG-13 Parkway Pointe ShowPlace East
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Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins Running time 1:45 Rated PG-13 Parkway Pointe ShowPlace East

Life is good for Roscoe Jenkins. His daytime talk show is a runaway success, he has a healthy young son, he’s engaged to the hottest celebrity in Hollywood, and he’s a bestselling author. Though his self-help book The Team of Me has been embraced by millions, there’s more than a bit of ego in his philosophy and there’s a reason for that. Put down constantly by his siblings as a child, Roscoe has made it his mission to look out for No. 1 and is more than willing to forget about his painful past. Too bad those memories will come back to haunt him when he returns to Georgia for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and he becomes everyone’s punching bag again.
There are good intentions at the heart of Malcolm D. Lee’s Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, and for the most part the writer/director and his solid cast are able to put the film’s heart-warming sentiments over in a convincing manner. Unfortunately, the film winds up playing like a fast-food meal rather than a home-cooked dinner. The relationships between the principal players aren’t as fully developed as they should be, so the emotional payoff that Lee aims for winds up being a ho-hum affair rather than one during which the audience should be reaching for their hankies. Meanwhile, the inclusion of such familiar gags as the old skunk-spray-to-the-face routine and the big-dinner-ruined-by-a-bigger-fight number shows that Lee may have run out of inspiration, because these sequences come off as needless narrative padding.
Although I’ve often found Martin Lawrence to be too crude for his own good in many of his films, he seems to shine in his more lighthearted features, and this one is no exception. As the title character, he puts forth a sense of false bravado that’s as transparent as it is grand, leading to some big laughs. However, the quieter scenes, in which he has heart-to-hearts with his neglected son Jamaal (Damani Roberts) and his stern father (James Earl Jones), allow the actor to dial things back and deliver some poignant moments. There’s no telling what Lawrence could do with a dramatic script; with any luck one day he’ll get his chance to show us. Co-star Joy Bryant, playing Roscoe’s obnoxious fiancée, Bianca, should have followed his lead. So over-the-top in her role as the woman who wins at all costs, the actress has us rooting for Jenkins to dump her from the get-go. The rest of the cast is much more watchable, and the interaction between these characters and Lawrence is natural and entertaining. Michael Clarke Duncan is steady and solid as Roscoe’s older brother, Otis, and Mo’Nique, as his sister, Betty, revels in being as loud in her voice, behavior, and wardrobe as possible. Not to be outdone is Mike Epps as Reggie, the cousin who never met a scam he couldn’t pull off or a woman he couldn’t charm. The actor is undeniably charming, and though he may not be a great actor you can’t take your eyes off him whenever he’s on the scene. The same can be said of Cedric the Entertainer. As Roscoe’s main rival, the two-faced cousin Clyde, he struts and preens in every scene, rubbing his success in everyone’s face, until we’re ready for him to take a big fall. Lee and the actor do not disappoint us on this count. Finally, Nicole Ari Parker as Lucinda, the object of Roscoe’s and Clyde’s affections, provides the calm in this familial storm, delivering a quiet, steady performance that nicely counters the film’s showier turns. Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins is not a bad movie per se, just one that could have used another rewrite or two. Its theme is akin to comfort food, and though it’s nice to be reminded that there’s no place like home, that small-town living outweighs big-city life, and that blood is thicker than water, these tropes need to be delivered with a bit more sincerity than what is present here to be effective. More emphasis on restoring the ties that bind and less on scenes dealing with dog fornication would have served Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins well.
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