At 'Home' with cliches

Times Staff Writer

With last year's big midlife-crisis hit "Wild Hogs," and now "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins," you could say Martin Lawrence is entering his mature phase. That's not to say sophisticated -- far from it -- it's just that his characters are now at that stage of life when they question what it's all about.

In "Welcome Home," writer-director Malcolm D. Lee sets out to prove that you can go home again, but the lesson apparently is that it's going to be painful for everyone involved (audiences included). Drawn in extremely broad strokes with an enthusiastic cast vying for most-over-the-top honors, this rude family comedy throws so many jokes and gags at the screen, a few are bound to stick.

Lawrence stars as Dr. R.J. Stevens, a combination of Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer, whose self-involved self-help philosophy "The Team of Me" has made him a daytime TV star and landed him a foxy fiancee in the formidably lithe personage of Bianca Kittles (Joy Bryant), a "Survivor" champion with a win-at-all costs attitude that carries over to all aspects of her life.

R.J. seemingly has it all with an L.A. mansion, a Range Rover, a young son, Jamaal (Damani Roberts) -- whose mother is conveniently out of the picture -- and a family back in Georgia whom he hasn't seen in nine years. Unbeknownst to his dad, Jamaal has been in close communication with his grandfather, Papa Jenkins (James Earl Jones), and he convinces a reluctant R.J. to go home to Dry Springs for his parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Everything in "Welcome Home" is pretty cut-and-dried. R.J.'s life in Hollywood is meaningless and superficial, while the Jenkins clan -- dysfunctional though it may be -- is brimming with small-town, old-school values and familial love. In L.A., Jamaal plays soccer. In Dry Springs, they play no-holds-barred softball -- an age- and gender-friendly sibling of that most honorably American of sports, baseball. Once R.J., Bianca and Jamaal hit Georgia, the culture-clash jokes begin to fly at a furious pace.

Turns out that R.J. is really Roscoe Jenkins Jr. The Jenkinses aren't particularly impressed by Roscoe's success (although they are initially impressed by Bianca's "Survivor" exploits).

Roscoe's mom (Margaret Avery) is thrilled to have her son back, but the rest of the family -- macho brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan), sexually voracious sister Betty (Mo'Nique), shifty cousin Reggie (Mike Epps) and patrician Roscoe Sr. (Jones) -- immediately revert to treating Roscoe as the loser they see him as. The family member they hold up as an exemplar of achievement is cousin Clyde, Roscoe's lifelong nemesis and proud owner of multiple Cadillac dealerships. Even more galling to Roscoe: Clyde shows up with his childhood crush, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker).

A near continuous assault of cliches, "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins" doesn't become truly bothersome until its denouement, when it attempts to wring unearned sentiment from the inevitable, awkwardly staged family rapprochement. Only one question really persists: Why does it have to take Roscoe almost two hours to come to realize what is obvious to the audience in the first 10 minutes?



"Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some drug references. Run time: 1 hour, 54 minutes. In general release.

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