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This 'Diary' lacks any revelations

Blows to the head are delivered with more subtlety than the message of ''Diary of a Mad Black Woman." But the movie seems intended as a blunt instrument, so its lack of finesse is very much the point: Certain women (and you know who you are) need a wake-up call to free them from the grip of a dead relationship.

''Diary" is part broad comedy, part domestic drama, part extended R&B slowjam, and total audience-tickler, with a lot of church and even more soap opera thrown in. It leaves no mood unswung as it shares with us the feel-bad-then-feel-really-good story of Helen McCarter, whom Kimberly Elise plays with a fearsome mix of honey and hot sauce.

Helen is literally dragged out of her great big Atlanta house. The occasion is her 18th wedding anniversary, and to celebrate, her husband Charles (Steve Harris) has decided to trade her in for a vapid, younger, less black woman. Oh, Helen wails and fights, but it's no use. Charles is a high-powered attorney, and knowing she signed a prenup, he's determined to be rid of her.

Helen's movie periscope might be not be working but mine spied Orlando (Shemar Moore), the ''strong, sensitive, and Christian" (not to mention unbelievably patient) metalworker who begins to sweep her off her feet the moment she's expelled.

But before Helen collapses into the arms of a ''knight in shining armor," she must find a career. She must grieve, she must grouse, she must move all the way back to the ghetto -- or, at least what the movie advertises as the ghetto.

It's really just a working-class neighborhood whose central figure, Helen's bawdy and vulgar Aunt Madea, is on hand to remind us that ''ghetto" is merely a state of mind. She carries a gun in her purse, curses up a storm, and prefers to say ''cleanting" while the rest of us say ''cleaning."

She also drags Helen back to her husband's home, and, in a sendup of Terry McMillan, the aggrieved wife destroys the clothes in her replacement's walk-in closet, while Madea chainsaws the living room and offers the movie's dedication: ''This is for every woman who's ever had a problem with a black man."

Judging from the applause that erupted when I saw the film, that number is pretty high.

Madea is the movie's warehouse of crudeness and its pulpit of truth. (Her name is less Euripides and more a Southernism for ''mother dear.") Along with two other characters, she is played by the movie's writer, actor-playwright Tyler Perry, whose cross-dressing inspiration for this top-heavy caricature appears to be Martin Lawrence in ''Big Momma's House."

Perry's brand of touring ''urban" theater has made him a star in black America. I've seen a couple of his shows on DVD while waiting to get my hair cut at the barbershop. On the stage, their overall hamminess wears down your resistance, and the frisky interplay with the live audience makes them passable fun. A precise double take is always good for a big laugh. But there's nothing precise about the movie that director Darren Grant has made of ''Diary."

In the very same scene, the movie hops from farce to melodrama and back to farce without regard for tone. Seeing Perry's Madea cut up with the intensely humorless Elise is like watching the mask of comedy mock the mask of tragedy until somebody laughs. (Having the ultra-serious Cicely Tyson play Helen's mother is the movie's one stroke of genius; they have the same mouth and the same wig.)

The stage can handle Perry's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to dramaturgy. The movie lacks the patience and the skill to handle the character contradictions and all the strands of story, which include Helen's cousin's travails with his drug-addicted wife and an inane plot twist that lands Charles back in Helen's life.

It's all tied up with a sloppy bow in a single church-bound scene. Anyone who's thought about a sitcom of ''The Color Purple" should know Perry has beaten them to it.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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