Combining writer-director-actor Tyler Perry's (2013's "A Madea Christmas
") straight-shooting, sass-talking, wisdom-dispensing Madea character with the spookiest (and best) of all holidays sounds to this Halloween-obsessed writer like an idea born from my wildest dreams. In actuality, "Boo! A Madea Halloween" takes a throwaway gag from 2014's Chris Rock comedy "Top Five" and turns it into prophecyand thank goodness for that. It's simply too enticing a concept not to see come to fruition, and Perry does not disappoint. Like a garage-set haunted house during trick-or-treating hours, it's a little creepy but mostly just silly and fun, not to be taken seriously but playing splendidly into the hallmarks of the season. It's also, for what it's worth, the most consistently successful and tonally controlled of all past Madea movies.
When Madea (Tyler Perry) is called upon on Halloween to keep an eye on rebellious 17-year-old niece Tiffany (Diamond White), she expects to have a reasonably quiet and uneventful evening. Tiffany and pastor's daughter Aday (Liza Koshy) have other ideas, sneaking out of the house to attend a wild frat party hosted by Theta president Jonathan (Yousef Erakat). With Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis) and wild pal Hattie (Patrice Lovely) by her side, Madea races after the teenage girl, sending the three of them on a hair-raising path populated with ghosts, zombies and evil clowns. On a night tailor-made for ghoulish mischief, however, not everything is as it seems.
"Boo! A Madea Halloween" knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and delivers on that front. The first and third acts could afford to be tightenedthe 103-minute running time is at least ten minutes too longbut when the film settles in and focuses on Madea's zany misadventures, it zings right along. Dropping this character into a narrative full of horror conventions and watching how she reacts to them is a large part of what makes the film as fresh as it is, and Tyler Perry continues to be a riotous presence with energetic, eager-to-please comic timing. Madea notoriously suffers no fools, which makes her run-ins with creaky dark attics, masked phantoms and the acrobatic undead all the more amusing.
Joining Perrywho does triple duty in front of the camera, also portraying Tiffany's divorced dad Brian and Madea's crusty horndog of a brother Joeare two equal standouts, Cassi Davis (2011's "Madea's Big Happy Family
") and Patrice Lovely. Davis is a comic delight playing the sneaky, marijuana-prescribed Aunt Bam, pocketing candy from trick-or-treaters even as she hands it out, while the adorable, helium-voiced Lovely is a firecracker as Hattie. That Perry has cast these two underrated, hugely talented actresses in active, over-50 lead roles is worth celebrating; they have more personality and get more mileage out of their comedic interplay than most younger performers ever could.
Tyler Perry has never been the most visual or cinematic of filmmakers, and "Boo! A Madea Halloween" is no exception. While he savvily puts his fog machines to good use and does achieve a mild goofy tension in a scene where Madea is accosted by a clown in the attic, the picture is primarily of the point-and-shoot variety. What Perry excels at is his rapid, frequently politically incorrect dialogue of bon mots and one-liners; a conversation about whupping kids and throwing them off roofs to set them straight has no business working, but does. Madea isn't one to normally ask for the Lort's help, but seeing her get pushed to the brink through her terrifyingand ridiculousexperiences is difficult to resist. And, while Perry can never resist a teachable moment of moralizing and a snapshot or two of domestic drama, he otherwise smartly keeps a light, farcical touch. "Boo! A Madea's Halloween" is the "Ernest Scared Stupid" of Madea movies, a slight but genuinely amusing holiday treat.