When you see the title "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," and you see that it involves a black family, you know:
1) "Home" is somewhere in the South,
2) The mother will be called "mama,"
3) There will be a lot of food.
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Black families in Hollywood tend to be of a predictable type. This time, though, it doesn't hurt the film too much. "Roscoe Jenkins" manages to take the formula, make it funny and give it some heart.
Martin Lawrence plays a talk-show host, a mix of Jerry Springer and Dr. Phil, who hasn't been home for nine years. He so wants to divorce himself from a painful past that he goes by the name RJ Stevens. Roscoe/RJ has gained fame with a new philosophy called "The Team of Me" -- it's all about you and it's all about winning.
He's engaged to Bianca (Joy Bryant), who has her own kind of fame; she won "Survivor." She's ultracompetitive, vain, vegan and spoiled. While the two seem to have some affection for each other, they also see their union as a branding opportunity.
The publicity surrounding the engagement prompts a call from Roscoe's mom (Margaret Avery). She asks him to make it home for his parents' 50th anniversary weekend. Roscoe resists, but his young son from a previous relationship gets him to change his mind. Roscoe warms to the idea. After all, he's a success, and going home will give the family he thinks underestimated him a chance to see that.
As anyone who has ever left home and returned knows, it ain't that simple. Family tends to assign you a role for life. So when Roscoe returns his family treats him as the underdog he was, and they act the same too. Cousin Reggie (Mike Epps) is still shady; Brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan) still takes pleasure in manhandling his much smaller brother; Sister Betty (Mo'Nique) is still a motormouth and eavesdropper. And Papa Jenkins (James Earl Jones) is still stern and hard on his namesake son.
The biggest source of pain for Roscoe, though, is Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), the cousin the family took in after Clyde's parents died. The two competed in everything growing up and Clyde usually won. The one time he didn't, in the family's annual obstacle course race, Clyde stole the prize any way -- sweet good girl Lucinda Owens (Nicole Ari Parker). Now the owner of several car dealerships, Clyde shows up at the gathering with Lucinda.
There's a lot going on, but it works because Cedric, Mo'Nique and Epps are funny people who know how to bring it. Epps, especially, seems not so much directed as unleashed. Even Clarke has some funny lines. When Roscoe spurns his barbecue to stick to Bianca's vegan diet regimen for them, Otis says, "The black Paris Hilton done sissified you off the pig."
The comedy is mostly slapstick and of the aggressive stripe. Folks don't get beat up, they get beat down. Things get smashed. Even in the two sex scenes (one between two dogs) pain seems as present as pleasure.
Yet, what's especially nice to see is a revived Lawrence. As Roscoe, he's like Martin Payne, the character on his Fox TV show -- personable, passionate, vulnerable. In this film, he has the fire of that younger comedian who seemed to always want to be not just funny, but hilariously funny -- and thoughtful -- no matter how it made him look.
It's good to have that Martin Lawrence back.