In his latest comedy, “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” Martin Lawrence takes a back seat and the end result is his most enjoyable and heartwarming film of his career.
Lawrence plays talk show host R.J. Jenkins, who is living the good life. With a successful show, a super-hot finance (Joy Bryant) and an adoring public, damn Oprah – Jenkins is “O-bro!” But while Jenkins is enjoying his successful life, he has avoided his family like the plague. After nine years, he is summoned to spend the weekend with his decidedly “country” family in the deep South.
Once there, all of Jenkins insecurities rear their ugly heads, beginning with his money-grubbing cousin, Reggie (Mike Epps), his wise-cracking big brother, Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his snoopy, country cousin, Bettty (Mo’Nique). In L.A., Jenkins is a star, but with his family he’s an afterthought. On top of that, he must come face-to-face with his over-achieving stepbrother, Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), whose always been better than him in everything – and even stole his first love, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker). Over the course of one wild action-packed weekend, Jenkins finds out what and who are really important.
While I have been critical of much of Lawrence’s film choices, even I was pleasantly surprised that director Malcolm Lee (“Undercover Brother” and “The Best Man”) took a story that easily could have veered into coonish territory and infused this warm tale with some much needed substance. After a typical beginning, the film settles down and shows true heart in the final act. In addition to the fine performances that he received from the abovementioned actors, he also gets kudos for adding two rarely working Oscar-nominated performers, Margaret Avery and James Earl Jones as Jenkins’ parents.
In choosing to star in this “Madea’s Family Reunion” meets “Johnson Family Vacation,” Lawrence smartly is one of the film’s key players instead of being THE player. That wise decision should give his career – and audiences – a new appreciation and side of this talented comedian. Although the title could use a little work, it is refreshing that in the annual dumping period that is Spring in Hollywood that at least for one weekend audiences will not have to hold their noses when leaving area multiplexes.