What will be the worst Martin Lawrence movie of the year? The competition is always fierce and it's still early, but we may have a winner in "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins." A groundbreaking achievement in blandness, the film has nothing other than a few ethnic references to distinguish it from the next lazy family comedy from Steve Martin.
Lawrence plays R.J. Stevens, a popular television relationship counselor who returns to his Southern home for his parents' 50th anniversary, reconnecting his upscale celebrity with his down-home relations. The reactions of James Earl Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Mo'Nique and the rest of the clan range from reserved to openly hostile. They think that he's grown too big for his britches, with his finicky, high-maintenance fiancee Bianca (Joy Bryant, "Antwone Fisher") and his big-city ways. Let the groin-whacking commence!
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Spike Lee's cousin), the film teeters between neo-minstrel humor and sappy sentimentality. Lee was much funnier with his spy spoof "Undercover Brother" and more likable with the skate-dancing toss-off "Roll Bounce"; here he flailingly attempts to grapple with questions of racial identity. Roscoe has abandoned the family name for a presumably more media-friendly one, he shows up for the party in hideous plaid golf pants that scream WASP and his relatives accidentally-on-purpose mispronounce his girlfriend's name "Blanca."
Will R.J. be able to stick to Bianca's string-bean cuisine diet, of will he throw her over for his salt-of-the-earth ex-girlfriend (Nicole Ari Parker) and heaping plates of fried chicken? If you can't predict the answer, how are you reading this newspaper?
Modestly budgeted and massively dumb, "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" belongs to the sassy sistas and blinged-out playas school of comedy (maybe it's a pre-school, come to think of it). It's great to see a studio release with so many black people in front of the camera and behind, but it would be so much more satisfying if the project was something to be proud of. Isn't good comedy a civil right?