STUDIO: Universal Studios
MSRP: $16.99
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
Alternate Opening
Deleted and extended scenes
Bringing the Family Together
On Location: Getting Down and Dirty
Going Home: Real Stories of the Cast
Joe “We Are Family” Music Video
Commentary with director Malcolm D. Lee

The Pitch

Martin Lawrence’s latest safe bet that isn’t.

The Humans

Writer / Director: Malcolm D. Lee

Cast: Martin Lawrence, Margaret Avery, Joy Bryant, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Mo’Nique, Louis C.K., Nicole Ari Parker, Cedric the Entertainer, James Earl Jones, Liz Mikel, Samantha Smith

“Yo, Eddie, what up?  What did I think of Meet Dave?”
*makes static noise*
“Eddie?  You there?  You’re breaking up…”

The Nutshell

Dr. RJ Stevens (Lawrence) is a successful talk show host who is living the good life as a TV darling and successful author.  Having recently gotten engaged to the shapely yet vacuous winner of Survivor, Bianca Kittles (the delectable Bryant), with plenty of cash in the bank and a nice house, things couldn’t possibly be any better for the former Roscoe Jenkins, the shy and awkward Southern boy with major family issues.  When RJ’s asked by his parents to come home for the first time in nearly a decade to attend their 50th wedding anniversary, he plans to show them all how the family misfit has made good.  Of course when he gets back to his hometown with Bianca and his 10-year-old son, Jamal, Roscoe finds that as much as things have changed, they haven’t changed at all.

“What the f**k you mean you didn’t like Phat Girlz?!”

The Lowdown

When trying to think of one word to describe Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, you could come up with several adjectives, but one invariably sticks out to me in particular.  Roscoe Jenkins is safe.  It falls perfectly within the expected molds that you’d would expect when analyzing the cast and the premise.  And thus by being safe, it’s utterly predictable, trite and ultimately forgettable.  Take Martin Lawrence.  Once, one of the most foul-mouthed and entertaining comics, who built a varied film and TV career by alternating between blue and family-friendly characters, he’s of late been on the Eddie Murphy kick of sticking to the family values crowd with a string of movies that, except for Open Season, are telegraphed to be cookie cutter voids of comedy before you even see the films.  Big Momma’s House 2, Wild Hogs, the upcoming College Road Trip, and Jenkins.  Hardly a risk in the bunch, not that playing it safe paid off very much for Lawrence lately except for the incomprehensible box office of Hogs.

When you stare into the Epps too long…

In Jenkins, Lawrence is yet another semi-likeable character who is put into a situation that has become the safe bet lately in a lot of Black-led comedies: the main character who goes home to a hellish visit with family that’s wilder than an unshaved bikini line.  Tyler Perry alone has made his career with this type of film.  I remark that Jenkins is semi-likeable because he alternates between being a sympathetic misfit who escaped a family that he obviously didn’t mesh with, and then he’s a big shot celebrity asshole that justifies their disdain for him.  Lawrence plays the fish-out-of-water role to perfection, as he should: it’s been his bread-and-butter role for the last decade. 

“Damn, I was wondering where they were hiding all the gross from Wild Hogs…”

As for the rest of the ensemble, it’s pretty much cast as one might expect.  You see the role, you can immediately envision the actor to play it.  Respected patriarch: James Earl Jones.  Crazy, country hustler / slacker cousin: Mike Epps, Mike Epps or Mike Epps.  Hulking older brother: Michael Clarke Duncan.  Jenkins’ childhood crush: many choices here, and Parker is as good as any.  The large and in charge, loud-mouthed, over-sexed, no-bullshit, overbearing older sister: Mo”Nique and no one else.  And for the ultra-competitive, self-important cousin and lifelong tormentor of Jenkins: well, you could go with almost any of the Kings of Comedy (and I’ll touch upon this reference again).  In this case it’s Cedric The Entertainer.  Not a surprise or a risk in the lot.

“Yo, I wish I knew how to quit you, man.”
“You better get away from me with that bullshit, Mike…”

Quickly getting back to the Kings of Comedy reference, Cedric played almost the exact role of Roscoe Jenkins in 2004’s Johnson Family Vacation.  Cedric’s Nate Johnson’s situation was essentially the same as he had to journey to a family reunion and deal with a family that he’s had issues with, and be subjected to constant ridicule and competition from brother, Mack, who just happened to be another King of comedy, Steve Harvey.  In Jenkins, Cedric flips the script and takes on Harvey’s role almost beat for beat.  So seeing him be exactly what he hated in a previous recent role was hardly unexpected.

Lawrence put off seeing What’s the Worst That Could Happen as long as he could, but when shit catches up with you, it catches up with you hard…

Mike Epps is, well… Mike Epps.  You know exactly what you’re going to get when you conceive a character that plays to his stengths.  I dig Epps.  I think he’s very funny, but I’ve seen his role of Reggie time and time and time again and just look for more from him.  Casting him as Reggie is, what was the word, oh yes, very safe.  Safe for Epps, because that’s his signature role type, and safe for the film because he’s the only one you could see in the role.  Same for Mo’Nique, who does what she’s hired to do: play an obnoxious and mouthy caricature.  She’s good at it, and I expect nothing less.  But unfortunately nothing more.

“So what you think my chances are of landing the Storm role when they ‘reimagine’ X-Men?”

Writer / director Malcolm D. Lee is a capable filmmaker.  His first film, The Best Man, is still one of the better predominantly Black films of the last ten years and I was surprised how much I liked his Blaxploitation spoof, Undercover Brother.  Haven’t seen Roll Bounce, but if Ebert liked it, that’s usually good enough for me.  Before Jenkins, Lee essentially hasn’t had a misfire at the theatre.  However, with predictable story elements, including the self-centered, bitchy fiance whom you know is going to be dumped by Jenkins, the crush in Parker’s character that you know is going to eventually be fulfilled, and cheap laughs like a scene where Jenkins gets sprayed by a skunk and a completely extraneous peekaboo shower scene between Epps and Mo”nique, Jenkins is a clear step backward for Lee.  A boilerplate, predictable, safe, family-friendly step backward, as it is for Lawrence and others.

Well…the film wasn’t all bad…

The Package

Perhaps the studio tried to make up for the shortcomings of the film by at least trying to put out a respectable DVD, which is stacked with extras.  Lee does a commentary, and there are several EPK-worthy makings-of including Bringing the Family Together, which runs about 12 minutes, On Location: Getting Down and Dirty, clocking in at seven minutes, and Going Home: Real Stories of the Cast, which is six minutes.  There’s also a three-minute-long alternate opening and over 20 minutes of deleted and extended scenes; and about 18 minutes of outtakes, most of which should have been taken out.  R&B singer Joe rounds out the offerings with a music video for his song, “We’re Family.”

5.4 out of 10