Madea Goes to Jail would’ve benefited from being a straight-up comedy. The film makes use of an obvious gimmick, as writer-director Tyler Perry dresses in drag to portray the loud-mouthed old woman who doesn’t take no for an answer. And while a man in women’s clothes always guarantees a laugh, there’s also something about the ugly and overweight Madea that makes you like her despite her obvious flaws. Can’t say the same for the other characters in Perry’s film, though.
The plot (she’s in trouble with the law — again) actually takes a backseat to the storyline about Joshua (Luke) and Linda (Overman), lawyers in love. Up-and-coming prosecutors in the district attorney’s office, they’re in the process of making plans for their high-profile wedding when Joshua runs into Candy (Pulliam), an old college friend who’s become a prostitute. Though Josh and Candy’s friendship was always platonic, Linda is intensely jealous, especially since Josh takes it upon himself to get Candy off the streets.
If none of this sounds very funny, that’s because it isn’t. Filled with the kind of soap opera that’s become a stereotypical trait of a Tyler Perry film, Madea Goes to Jail gets bogged down by its polarizing politics.
It’s too bad, because Madea herself is a real hoot, taking on the cops when they try to throw her in the slammer, and starting a fight with the biggest, meanest woman she encounters in prison. Madea serves as a foil for the much of the film’s melodrama, and that’s another reason it’d be better if we saw more of her. Too often, however, shoddy direction (several of the film’s montages look like the work of an amateur) and a hackneyed script keep this comedy on lockdown.