There is no joy in no-frills Tyler Perry
When Tyler Perry acts in one of his movies, when he’s not Madea or her brother Joe or anybody else with a gassy stomach or gassy mouth, he’s a different person. Actually, he’s not a person at all. He’s a corpse. His face gives us sourness and sadness and secrets. Without the wigs and latex, he’s hiding in plain sight. In “Good Deeds,’’ the crop of his hairline and the etch of his beard create the illusion of shadows across his face. The hair becomes a mask of hypermasculinity. He spends the movie with his voice way down low and his spirits even lower.
“Good Deeds’’ is the first of the 11 movies he’s written and directed to try a one-tone-fits-all approach. Sadly, that tone is funereal, and it’s always a beat out of step with the rhythms of both real life and most movies. Perry plays Wesley Deeds, the affluent heir to the big business his late father started and that he now runs. His fiancee, Natalie (Gabrielle Union), knows Wesley by heart and she’s bored.
The film purports to be set in San Francisco (nobody in that city spends this much time in high-rises), and after a scene of cumbersome love-making to Natalie, the movie cuts to a shot of Alcatraz. Perry’s been studying his Douglas Sirk. If only the movie were operating at the level of ridiculous formal insinuation of that shot, if only Perry were trying to reach some new peak of pop art or psychodrama. But all we get is one moping scene followed by another. Whose life, Wesley asks in the movie’s narration, is he living? Judging from all the sterile office and apartment space and his mile-long face, I’d say Bruce Willis’s in “The Sixth Sense.’’ You don’t know whether to send Wesley to therapy or the morgue.
The other half of “Good Deeds’’ belongs to Thandie Newton, who plays Lindsey, the single mother and newly homeless janitor who cleans Wesley’s offices. Lindsey is snappish and stressed out and weepy until she realizes she’s the only reason Wesley wants to get up in the morning. In other words, this is another occasion for one of Newton’s emotional ragamuffins.
In another film, the relationship between the moneybags and the maintenance woman would constitute a resuscitative romance. But there’s no spark of attraction or real love between these two. What they have feels like a recipe for codependent disappointment. Wesley thinks he’s rescuing this woman from her life. But her desperation just gives him somewhere new to hide. I don’t know what Perry is trying to tell us but I wish he’d just come out and say it.