There are always pearls of wisdom in the cinematic sermonettes of Tyler Perry. And even if they're a tad too obvious, it's plain that his connection to Oprah has paid off when he has characters in his films talk about personal responsibility, taking control of your own life and marriage, or simply making it a motto to do the right thing.
But the movies around his astute observations about life are generally slow-footed slogs, in desperate need of editing. "Good Deeds" (or "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds") has a few good scenes, a few solid messages about the importance of being needed in a relationship or marriage and the financial tightrope a lot of families are walking in this economy. But he's such a dull dramatist and boring actor that the message isn't delivered.
Perry stars as Wesley Deeds, a San Francisco CEO who rides herd over his hotheaded screw-up brother (Brian White, in a role so broad and ineptly written that he's doomed before he opens his mouth). Their martinet mom (Phylicia Rashad) raised them to be "gentlemen," and ambitious ones at that. So Wesley is marrying a stunning, shallow go-getter Realtor (Gabrielle Union).
"Am I living my own life, or the one I'm told to live?" he asks in the sermon's opening narration.
Wesley and Natalie are a blase, predictable couple. She can mouth his words before he says them. You can set a clock by his routine. Until he stumbles into Lindsay, a struggling single mom who is juggling jobs and bills as she tries to keep it together.
Newton, a wonderful and under-used actress, lends sass, spark and pride to her scenes with Perry.
She doesn't realize he's her boss. And he only slowly comes to pick up the thread of her story - how she ended up in the spot she's in, living in a battered minivan with her 6 year-old daughter.
Perry, with all his years polishing his craft for the stage before putting his work on the screen, can construct a scene like a pro, but can't get through one with any urgency. We stay several plot points and many minutes ahead of "Good Deeds" as it unfolds, thanks largely to his immaculately lit, close-up packed "big scenes." They all play like "big scenes" because he's in no hurry to get through them, giving himself and everybody else their "moments." Even if they have nothing to say and the scene doesn't advance the plot.
The script packs in tidbits about Wesley's noble breeding and noble dream - riding a Harley through the Third World, digging wells in rural villages as he does - and plugs for everything from social welfare services and company-run daycare centers to minority contract set-asides. Nobody ever called the guy who made his name by wearing a dress "subtle."
The result is an overlong, flat movie in which he's hitting his "women as victims" theme a bit more lightly, but which lacks an edge and does nothing to keep us from guessing the ending, pretty much based on the title.
Cast: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union, Brian White
Written and directed by Tyler Perry; a Lionsgate release. Running time: 1:48
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language, some violence and thematic material