Throwback Review: 'Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins'
In answer to the first question that probably popped up in your mind, I wanted to try something a little out of the ordinary in terms of my usual Throwback reviews. When I do my Throwback reviews, I always make an effort to talk about any kind of movie that interests me, whether it be classic, under-the-radar, good, or even bad. And Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins seemed like a pretty good candidate for an interesting Throwback review, because it provided me an opportunity to talk about a movie that the critical press at the time of its release – 2008 - regarded as terrible. Plus, I am becoming a huge fan of the work of writer/director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man Holiday and Barbershop: The Next Cut being two of my favorite films of all time).
Quick summary of the plot: RJ Stevens – real name: Roscoe Jenkins (Martin Lawrence) – is a famous talk show host who is about to marry beautiful reality TV star Bianca (Joy Briant) and has a great son named Jamal (Damani Roberts). However, his life is about to be turned upside-down when his parents (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) request that he return home for their 50th anniversary after having stayed away for nine years. So, Roscoe reluctantly takes his fiancé and son on a trip to Georgia, where they come across Roscoe’s crazy kin-folk: crazy pickpocket Reggie (Mike Epps), his older brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan), and his sister Betty (Mo’Nique), his backstabbing, butt-kissing cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), and his old crush Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker).
Just from that plot synopsis, you can probably chart the rest of the movie from there. But I usually don’t mind familiarity as long as it’s outdone by execution. And for the most part, that is the case with this film. The cast is what really makes this film rise above its flaws: veteran actors James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery are good as ever, Mike Epps is a riot, Mo’Nique as well, and Michael Clarke Duncan…man, every time I see that guy onscreen, I feel a little sad inside thinking about what a great actor we lost so soon.
And as for our main lead Martin Lawrence…well, I’ve always had a soft spot for the guy – watching all five seasons of Martin on DVD to the point of memorization will do that to a guy. But something I’ve discovered watching this is that Martin Lawrence is at his best when he’s not trying to be funny. In the movie, when Lawrence is going over-the-top and making weird faces, it gets a little annoying at times. But when he’s more lowkey and emotional, he’s actually pretty good at it. My favorite moment is when Roscoe breaks down and shares his feelings with his father because it shows Martin Lawrence’s emotional range. Kinda makes me sad that Hollywood has relegated him to just comedic roles. Hopefully he’ll have the opportunity to branch out.
If the film does have one major problem that gets more apparent every time I watch it, it’s that it gets very mean-spirited at times. I know Roscoe is supposed to get knocked down a peg or two when he comes home after having gone Hollywood, but the way his family treats him just goes very over-the-top. Betty (Mo’Nique’s character) has been abusing Roscoe ever since he was a little kid and his cousin Clyde has been screwing him over every chance he got. This is why the aforementioned emotional moment – even though I like it – kinda feels weak because Roscoe should have been going off on everybody, not just his father. And again, I know his character arc is about patching up his strained relationship with his family after nine years, but if I had a family who treated me this way, I wouldn’t want to go back either. The movie also doesn’t treat its female characters all that great. I mean, it’s nowhere near as bad as Tyler Perry’s output, but there’s certainly enough to unpack by feminist critics who are more qualified to talk about this subject than I.
Before I wrap up this review, I feel the need to ask a little question. And I’m aware of how this may come across but hear me out. I’m given to wonder if this film would have been raked over the coals as much if there were more black film critics offering their perspective on it. Now, that’s not to say that I think they would have hailed this film as a masterpiece because it’s not. It’s very silly and can get annoying. But I am just left curious as to how it would have been received if there were more black film critics coming from the same experience that the main character comes from. Just a little food for thought.
Anyway, be on the lookout for my review of The LEGO Move 2: The Second Part!
© 2019 Elijah Anderson