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Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins

Surprise, surprise: Roscoe Jenkins, formulaic though it may be, is funnier and more tender than you'd ever expect. Think Meet the Parents-meets-Def Comedy Jam.


To TV viewers and his Survivor-winning fiancée Bianca (Joy Bryant), Roscoe Jenkins (Martin Lawrence) is known as R.J. Stephens, a self-help guru whose "Team of Me" philosophy has won him millions of adoring fans and faithful followers. Roscoe's ginormous Southern family, however, doesn't approve of how "Hollywood" he has become and isn't afraid to tell him just that, which explains why Roscoe hasn't been home in eight years. But with his parents' (James Earl Jones and Margaret Avery) 50th anniversary coming up, Roscoe tentatively decides to come home, with his son (Damani Roberts), Bianca and her dainty dog in tow. Upon arriving, he is bombarded with the family annoyances that have kept him away for so long. Cousin Reggie (Mike Epps) is the first to welcome Roscoe by swiftly asking him to "borrow" hundreds of dollars to buy ice; Roscoe's siblings (Michael Clarke Duncan and Mo'Nique) taunt both him and his size-zero, domineering fiancée; and his old-fashioned dad is simply embarrassed by the sensationalism on which Roscoe has built a career. But once Roscoe's cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer) shows up, the childhood memories really kick in. Roscoe resents Clyde for always winning at everything when they were kids. Clyde even brings the girl (Nicole Ari Parker) he stole from his cousin a long time ago, which sends Roscoe into a life-assessment crisis.


In damn near every Martin Lawrence movie, if he isn't the lead in stature, he is the lead in boisterousness. But in Roscoe Jenkins, he has some real competition in the latter department and even concedes the throne from time to time. He isn't forced to carry the movie by himself, which translates to a scaled-down version of his usual performance: diminished outbursts and pratfalls but not beyond recognition. Rising star Bryant (Get Rich or Die Tryin') actually has the funniest role as a celeb wannabe who still lives on Survivor terms, but the humor might be lost on viewers eager to vilify her snooty character for clashing with the Jenkins family. Elsewhere, Epps and Mo'Nique are in full-on stand-up mode, with often funny results, while Cedric is refreshingly not in stand-up mode and Duncan (Green Mile) is his usual more-than-meets-the-eye self. Acting legend James Earl Jones, on the other hand, is a somewhat tough sell in a slapstick-y comedy at this stage in his career, as he delivers punch lines with the weight of a National Geographic voiceover. Still, the other actors' respect for him is palpable and, it turns out, fitting in this case.


There's something about the spirit of Roscoe Jenkins that renders the movie much looser and more genuine than what we've come to expect from similar, formulaic comedies. Such surprising quality is thanks to the work of writer-director Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Roll Bounce), who, throughout his career, has crafted a different, superior kind of "urban" movie to that of his peers. There is indisputably some throwaway material in Roscoe--bodily-function humor, skunk-bodily-function humor, dog-sex humor--which is always a shame to see, and the premise is awfully cookie-cutter, but Lee's execution of it all makes for a mostly lighthearted family comedy that can actually be enjoyed by the whole family. And when the inevitable non-lighthearted moments do arrive, Lee has a way of not making them so heavy-handed that we forget this movie is a comedy and that all will, ultimately, end well. Finally, Lee has displays a knack for handling a large group of actors--could there be a larger group than Roscoe Jenkins'?!--and generating true chemistry, loud and obnoxious like a real family.

Bottom Line rated this film 2 1/2 stars.