Can Jaa hack it?

With the help of a pro-Second Amendment grandma, Helen (Kimberly Elise) finds Christ and the love of a good man after her cheatin' lawyer husband unceremoniously dumps her, in Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

To describe Diary of a Mad Black Woman as a black comedy is not to suggest that, like the works of Franz Kafka, Nathanael West, and Samuel Beckett, it finds complex humor in horror. There is nothing complex about the screenplay that Tyler Perry adapted from his own stage play, whose blackness lies in the complexion of its African-American characters. It is the melodramatic account of a spurned wife who finds redemption in Jesus, as well as in another man whom she describes as "beautiful, strong, and Christian."

On the eve of his 18th wedding anniversary and just after being feted as Atlanta's "Lawyer of the Year," Charles McCarter (Harris) shows his gorgeous, faithful wife, Helen (Elise), the door, immediately after showing her Brenda (Marcos), the gold-digging hussy he has chosen as her replacement. Outgrowing his humble origins, Charles has amassed a fortune, but, because of a carefully worded prenuptial agreement, Helen is shut out of her caddish husband's opulent mansion and lacks legal claim to any of its pricey contents. Charles had consigned Helen's pious mother, Myrtle (Tyson), to a nursing home, and Helen now has no one to turn to except her grandma, a pistol-packing brawler named Madea; like Medea, her mythological namesake, Madea is a matriarch you do not want to mess with. When she learns of Charles' perfidy, she immediately invades the mansion and buzz-saws the designer sofa.

In an outlandish, uproarious tour de farce reminiscent of Eddie Murphy's manic multiple performances, Tyler Perry also plays the spunky matron and her brother Joe, an uncouth ancient who is literally and audibly an old fart. He also plays Brian, a courteous young lawyer whose junkie wife has abandoned him and their children to live on the streets. Brian's marital tribulations parallel Helen's, and both overcome despair through faith. Everything culminates in a vibrant Sunday church service with a sonorous gospel choir that, aside from Perry's Madea, is the best thing about the film. "Ask the Savior to help you," Helen's mother advises, but she is also aided by Orlando (Moore), a handsome factory worker who helps her forget about Charles. Helen and Orlando become celibate lovers shot in soft focus, exchanging mawkish dialogue that would embarrass a Hallmark greeting card poet. Sensitive, generous, and tender, Orlando is as credible as inconceivably cruel and callous Charles is.

   Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Dir. Darren Grant; writ. Tyler Perry, based on his stage play; feat. Perry, Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Sherman Moore, Lisa Marcos, Cicely Tyson (PG-13)

The buffoonery of black actors in blackface and the maudlin romance of Helen and Orlando are in obvious service to a Christian message of faith and forgiveness that is to subtexts what battleships are to submarines. Lurking, though, beneath the surface of Diary of a Mad Black Woman is a critique of the self-indulgent black bourgeoisie. Charles gets rich by serving clients from the working class that he himself grew up in. But deserting the old 'hood, the haughty attorney dismisses the world that he left behind as unworthy of him. "I don't work for your kind anymore," Charles tells a thug who comes to him seeking legal aid. The social-climbing scoundrel is clearly and justly headed for a fall. While Charles drives a Rolls and dons custom-tailored suits, Orlando travels in a pickup and wears a uniform from the shop where he works. But it is Orlando who is the authentic homeboy, the man of Helen's dreams whose myriad virtues eventually succeed in soothing the wrath of a mad black woman.

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