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Diary of a Mad Black Woman

(2005) * 1/2 Pg-13
116 min. Lions Gate Films. Director: Darren Grant. Cast: Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Shemar Moore, Tamara Taylor, Lisa Marcos.

I'm not sure if Diary of a Mad Black Woman is heartfelt or cynical, but if anyone can write a movie that's both, it's probably Tyler Perry. Perry—who wrote the original play of the same name and its screen adaptation—will be a Hollywood darling, because he seems to genuinely believe in his own bullshit, even when he's contradicting himself. He's also a self-styled movie star, playing three roles in a bid for Eddie Murphy-esque props.

In the good news department, Perry doesn't play the title character. Kimberly Elise of The Manchurian Candidate plays Helen McCarter, who suffers silently under the awful rule of her successful lawyer husband, Charles (Steve Harris of TV's The Practice). Charles unceremoniously dumps Helen for a "ho," and before you can say, "Oh, no you di-n't!" Helen's courted by sleek mover Orlando (The Young and the Restless star Shemar Moore) who hauled her belongings away from her comfortable manse.

In desperation, Helen returns to her pistol-packin' mama (Perry, an even less convincing screen woman than "Juwanna Mann"), a straight-talker who'd just as soon slap the sass out of you as listen to anything you have to say. Perry spouts such elegantly droll lines as "I ain't scared a' no po-po. Call the po-po, ho!". Helen's mama lives with her kooky, elderly, pot-smoking brother Joe (whose idea of speaking his mind is farting). Helen's cousin (also Perry) troubleshoots a drug-addicted spouse in one of the pointless and (worse) hackneyed subplots.

Despite comic extremism involving lasciviousness, pot, and spousal abuse, Diary of a Mad Black Woman clumsily pushes a Christian agenda. When Helen bemoans, "He was my everything," her mother replies, "God is your everything!" Prayer and proclamation submerge conveniently when Helen can turn the other cheek no more and goes after her revenge, movie-heroine-style. Thus, audiences are encouraged to cheer on her ultimate failure of spirit. The comic-dramatic climax sits very ill at ease next to the montage set to "One of Us" (as in "What if God was one of us...?").

The technical credits here are quite good, with terrific photography and rollicking gospel music adorning the miserably exaggerated comic melodrama. I can't and won't fault the actors, who try hard to overcome soapy situations and overripe dialogue. Perry's mostly to blame, for the calculated sentiment and paper-doll characters. Never has a movie pandered so nakedly as this one: the bad man (Charles) does everything but twirl his moustache ("Now be a lady and leave quietly," he tells Helen); the good man (Orlando) actually says, "I know you don't believe in fairy tales, but if you did, I'd want to be your knight in shining armor." Can I hear the ladies say, "Awwwwwwww..."? Yes, I can. "Dear Diary," writes Helen. "This man is fine." Despite being very nearly two full hours, Diary of a Mad Black Woman plays its audience like a fiddle.

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