- Rated PG-13
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Will Harris
here have been plenty of times in his career when Martin Lawrence has been dismissed as the poor man’s Eddie Murphy, and, okay, you can kind of see why people might make the comparison: he’s done the obligatory black-guy-teams-up-with-white-guy buddy pictures (“Nothing to Lose” with Tim Robbins, “National Security” with Steve Zahn), donned a fat suit (the “Big Momma’s House” flicks), and even voiced an animated character (“Open Season”). Recently, however, Lawrence ventured into a genre that Murphy’s never gone anywhere near: the ensemble comedy. Granted, it was a little surreal to see our man Martin in “Wild Hogs” and watch him straddle a Harley and hit the highway with guys like Tim Allen, William H. Macy, and John Travolta, but give the man his due: it showed that he didn’t have a problem sharing the screen with other actors.
While there’s never any question that “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” is “a Martin Lawrence movie,” it’s definitely another case where he’s surrounded himself with a cast of talented comedians to whom he’s more than willing to pass the punch lines. Lawrence plays talk-show host R.J. Stevens. We see more of his show over the closing credits than we ever see in the film itself, but the rapid-fire collection of clips which appear in the faux “Access: Hollywood” story that opens the movie suggests a slapdash combination of Montel, Maury, Jerry Springer, and Dr. Phil. R.J. has made a name for himself via something he calls “Team of Me,” a pop-psychology concept which swept the nation and, in the process, helped him sweep Bianca (Joy Bryant), a former “Survivor” contestant, off her feet and into an engagement.
Being the toast of television doesn’t erase your past, however, and R.J. finds his former life as Roscoe Jenkins, a small-town Georgia boy, coming back to haunt him when he’s invited…well, it’s more of a summons, really…back home to attend the celebration for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. He’s less than thrilled, but after a guilt trip from his son Jamaal, he relents and books three tickets to the Empire State of the South. Of course, within minutes of arriving, he remembers why he left in the first place – he can’t stand his family – but even though it’s a tale as old as time, it’s one which continues to be recycled because it’s one to which everyone can relate.
Let us not pretend that there isn’t quite a lot wrong with “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.” Every sight gag and all the slapstick shenanigans that you’ve seen in the trailer are here, and 90% of them result in groans rather than laughter. Granted, there’s an obstacle course scene which rushes by at such a frantic pace that you find yourself laughing at a shot to the balls before you realize what a cheap gag it is, but we’ll call that part of the 10%. Several characters exist solely as plot devices, most notably RJ’s fiancée, who’s painted as such an excruciating individual that even the most naïve theatergoer will know that their relationship is doomed long before the point when we’re introduced to R.J.’s still-gorgeous high school crush, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker). Similarly, the character of Roscoe’s son could be excised wholesale from the film without requiring more than a half-dozen pages worth of rewriting. In fact, somewhere around the halfway point of the movie, one gets the sneaking suspicion that the filmmakers were fully aware of the flimsiness of the plot but figured, “Ah, people are going to be laughing too hard to care.”
They’re essentially right. The scenes where RJ interacts with his siblings (Michael Clarke Duncan and Mo’Nique) and his cousins (Mike Epps and Cedric the Entertainer) are consistently hilarious. There’s almost certainly an element of adlibbing involved, given the number of stand-ups in the cast, but whoever’s responsible, there are too many laugh-out-loud moments amongst the Jenkins Family Players to dismiss the film just because you’re already pretty sure you know how it’s going to end. Also notable is the onscreen relationship between Martin Lawrence and James Earl Jones, who plays Roscoe’s father; specifically, it’s the way Lawrence immediately shifted into nervous-teenager mode whenever he had a scene with Jones that’s interesting. It’s hard to say how much acting was actually involved, given that most of us would probably shift into nervous-teenager mode if we had to act in a scene James Earl Jones, but, still, the realism of it makes their scenes a joy to watch.
As a film, “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” is in no way what you’d call a resounding success, but when it works (i.e. during the moments where it’s less about plot and more about family being family), it’s a stone-cold riot. Still, if you can restrain yourself from seeing it until it comes out on DVD, you’ll probably be better off; it’s definitely a film where having access to a fast-forward button can be a godsend.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The box art for the single-disc release of “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” severely underplays the wealth of bonus material on the DVD. The commentary with writer/director Malcolm D. Lee may not be very entertaining, but fans of the film will definitely enjoy the 40-odd minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes. Also included is an alternate opening, two production featurettes (“Bringing the Family Together” and “Getting Down and Dirty”), and a short bit where some of the actors share stories about going home for the first time after “making it” in Hollywood.