Release Date: February 24, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language, some violence and thematic material)
Genre: Drama, Romance, Comedy
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Tyler Perry
Actors: Tyler Perry, Thandie Newton, Gabrielle Union, Eddie Cibrian, Brian White, Phylicia Rashad, Rebecca Romijn, Jamie Kennedy, Jordenn Thompson

While Madea’s slated for yet another appearance in a theater near you in the not-so-distant future (Madea’s Witness Protection is filming as we speak), it’s a particularly welcome change of pace when actor/writer/director Tyler Perry tries something that doesn’t involve him dressing in drag.

More in the vein of feel-good dramas like Daddy’s Little Girls and Why Did I Get Married?, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds is the story of a successful man named Wesley (Perry) who’s basically plodding through each waking moment in a rather joyless manner. Currently serving as the C.E.O of his father’s successful software company, a duty he was expected to assume after his father’s untimely passing, all work and little play is making Wesley a very bitter man.

Speaking of bitter, Wesley’s little brother Walter (television actor Brian White) couldn’t be more chafed about his big brother’s seemingly charmed life. Not only would he happily run the company that Wesley isn’t all that excited about, but apparently, he’s got the brains to do so, too. Unfortunately, it’s his steely, opportunistic mother (Phylicia Rashad, For Colored Girls) who is perpetually standing in his way.

And instead of simply swallowing his pride and trusting that his hard work will lead somewhere better in the future, Walter only gives more credence to his mama’s doubts about him by drinking too much and embarrassing the company during important business meetings. To wit, a steady string of DUIs has forced him to accept a ride to work from Wesley every morning.

As things at the company start taking a turn for the worse from an economic standpoint, and Wesley is basically sleeping at the office, there’s eventually a break in the day-to-day doom and gloom when Wesley meets Lindsey (Thandie Newton, 2012). In stark contrast to his high maintenance fiancée Natalie (Gabrielle Union, Cadillac Records) who only seems to be in the relationship for the money and to save face with their respective uppity families, Lindsey is a pretty, opinionated single mom who cleans Wesley’s office, not to mention the rest of the building.

Unlike most romantic comedies, Wesley and Lindsey’s meet-cute actually isn’t very cute at all (she parks in his “reserved space,” he almost gets her towed—with her young daughter in the backseat), but thanks to plenty of quick-witted, I’m-not-sure-if-I-like-you verbal sparring, you know there’s something promising brewing there.

Borrowing liberally from Maid in Manhattan and even The Pursuit of Happyness thanks to Lindsey’s seemingly endless string of unfortunate happenings, Good Deeds is a mostly well-intentioned urban fantasy where a person’s desire to live with conviction makes him/her a far better prospect for love than the usual superficial trappings.

While not particularly original in terms of storytelling since anyone who’s ever watched a movie before will know exactly where the narrative is headed, the performances from Perry and Newton in particular, have real emotional resonance.

But for anyone who’s grown accustomed to faith playing a prominent role in the equation, however, there’s little mention of God to be found anywhere in Good Deeds. If anything, viewers are forced to strike an uncomfortable bargain as Perry’s character Wesley doesn’t have a problem living with his fiancée before marriage, but demonstrates a depth of character by not indulging his burgeoning feelings for Lindsey when he’s already committed to Natalie.

Even as he struggles to choose between which master to serve—duty or having the chutzpah to forge his own path—we’re never quite sure what—or perhaps, Who—is motivating him. If Wesley has faith, it’s more of the let-my-actions-do-the-talking variety, which is ultimately a good, non-preachy way to live, but confusing for anyone hoping for a little more clarity.

That issue aside, Good Deeds is still one of Perry’s better movies. Definitely a step up from his previous efforts that have felt a little too sitcom-y, everything from the striking San Francisco backdrop to the superb acting is an upgrade. And the fact that Madea’s not anywhere in sight? Priceless.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking and public drunkenness depicted. Walter’s alcohol abuse has led to several DUIs and having his driving privileges revoked. A “mountain of cocaine” is mentioned in an argument between Walter and his mother.
  • Language/Profanity: While there are no f-bombs, a steady stream of milder profanity is used throughout including bit--, he--, as- and dam-. God’s name is also exclaimed or taken in vain on a handful of occasions.
  • Sex/Nudity: Wesley is shown in the shower on a couple of different occasions (nothing aside from his shoulders and chest are on display). Natalie is shown in her bra on a couple of occasions, and girls are sporting some rather skimpy clothing at the club Natalie hangs out at. Wesley and Natalie are engaged to be married but live together already. We see them start to have sex on the couch, but when Wesley wants to close the blinds to the outside world, Natalie chastises his lack of spontaneity. Later on, we see the couple getting busy again (no nudity, but it’s definitely a bit racy). Some discussion on whether two employees are “screwing.”
  • Violence: Wesley and Walter get in a fight, and punches are thrown. Walter’s mom slaps him across the face. Lindsey and her young daughter are assaulted at a homeless shelter and leave early.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blogFor more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.