Boo! A Madea Halloween is a movie that shouldn’t exist. It was conceived as a joke by Chris Rock for his movie Top Five, and Tyler Perry, apparently unfamiliar with the concept of parody, took it as a challenge. Thus, less than two years after Top Five opened, Tyler brought Boo! to the big screen — and, of course, it earned three times as much as Rock’s film.
I would say that the rushed nature of Boo! accounts for its shallow plot and clichéd, juvenile humor, but that has pretty much been par for the course for all of Perry’s Madea movies. (Full disclosure: I’ve seen “only” three or four of them, so it’s possible I’ve been unlucky enough to choose the only ones not worthy of Academy Award recognition.)
For years, Perry’s work has polarized my brain, one side glad that he’s served as such a robust fount of African-American success and the other side cringing at the unrefined content that hews uncomfortably close to the outdated buffoonery and black stereotypes so prevalent in early 20th-century showbiz.
By and large, though, despite accusations of colorism, emasculation of black men and faux empowerment of black women, I’ve viewed the Madea films as generally harmless fun for those who are into what are essentially Christian-themed, slapsticky after-school specials — their positive impact balancing out the negative. At least, I reasoned, his wasn’t the only images of African Americans in movies and on TV today.
But then, Perry decided to tread on my turf, exploiting the horror genre for his tomfoolery. THIS. SHALL. NOT. STAND. In truth, Boo! is about as much “horror” as Ernest Scared Stupid — less so, in fact, because Ernest at least had genuine supernatural elements (trolls, as I recall), whereas all of the horror elements in Boo! (ghosts, zombies, killer clowns) all turn out to be pranks. Ugh, you mean I sat through this film for nothing?
The plot goes like this: Madea’s nephew Brian (also played by Perry) is having trouble reining in his rebellious teenage daughter Tiffany (Diamond White), who wants to attend a Halloween party at a local frat house, despite the fact that she’s still in high school. To her chagrin, Brian refuses to let her go, and when he has to go out of town, he calls on Madea to keep her out of trouble. Of course, Madea can’t even keep herself out of trouble, so things predictably spiral out of control, and she and her senior citizen crew — including Bam (Cassi Davis), Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Joe (Perry yet again) — find themselves at odds with the frat boys. Stupidity ensues.
Unsurprisingly, Boo!’’s hastily constructed plot is thin, padded out by scenes of Madea and her cronies engaging in endless banter that is at best a poor imitation of the dinner scenes from The Nutty Professor. In what presumably is a film aimed at families, the four seniors are awkwardly positioned as the moral compass, trying to convey to Brian that he needs to engage in tough love with his daughter — even though they themselves habitually engage in drugs, theft, profanity, sexual innuendo, violence and intimidation.
I get the gist of the “bad granny” humor and old-timers talking about how kids need whuppings, but I see little funny in comedy about straight-up child abuse. They actually make a joke about Madea hitting Brian so hard that he ended up on life support WHEN HE WAS FOUR and about another time as a kid when Joe pushed him off a roof, causing him to lose a testicle that got punctured by a pencil. Ball jokes > personal responsibility.
Basically, everyone in the movie is annoying and one-note, from the bratty teen to the pushover dad to the dim-witted frat boys to the blathering, homespun old folks. It’s the latter’s crude portrayals that have been one of the polarizing elements of Perry’s films. On one hand, their broad, unrefined characterizations have drawn comparisons to the antiquated humor and unflattering racial portrayals of Amos & Andy and the like. On the other hand, some view such criticism as elitism that’s out of touch with the folksy comedy of the gospel plays (the so-called “chitlin circuit”) upon which Perry’s work is largely based.
To me, it is possible to craft well-made melodrama and low-brow humor, and Perry has managed to carve some entertaining moments out of such critically derided devices, but Boo! is certainly not his best work. It lacks any of the charm and likability to overcome its crassness, poor writing and painful performances. Many of the young cast members in the movie are social media stars, and well, there’s a reason they’re stars on social media and not in films. Perhaps even more cringe-worthy, when the horror elements kick in, it’s hard not to see echoes of the old-fashioned spook stereotype in the over-the-top performances of Madea’s crew.
Maybe if it were funnier or smarter (Can anyone explain to me how someone can “hack” a bathroom mirror to write a message on the foggy glass???), it would be easier to swallow the uncomfortable characterizations straight out of the days of Mantan Moreland and Willie Best, but as it is, Boo! earns its exclamatory title.