Tyler Perry makes an inauspicious debut on streaming giant Netflix with the premiere of his “A Fall from Grace,” a convoluted legal/romantic thriller that, ironically, might be best enjoyed with a theaterful of moviegoers whose astounded reactions might be more entertaining than this off-the-rails potboiler.
Perry, the film’s writer, director, executive producer and costar, reportedly shot the entire picture in five days. That may sound impossible (and nothing to crow about), but when you see the slapdash results, it makes total sense. In the movie’s press notes, a cast member recalls “I had never worked this fast before … sometimes you would get only one or two takes.” That speed does no favors to the filmmaker’s actors or characters — or the audience. To wit, though the leads and co-leads do their best with the dubious material, a few of the supporting players are truly subpar. That judge, yikes!
This did-she-or-didn’t-she murder mystery, many of whose key turns have already been pre-spoiled in the movie’s deceptively effective trailer, uneasily splits its focus between Jasmine (Bresha Webb), a young Virginia public defender (and, as drawn here, a flat-out terrible lawyer), and Grace (Crystal Fox from TV’s “In the Heat of the Night”), a middle-aged divorcee and bank employee indicted for the murder of her evil new husband, Shannon (Mehcad Brooks).
When the reluctant Jasmine is assigned to Grace’s case by her hard-nosed superior, Rory (Perry, in a thankless, one-note role), she meets with her imprisoned client to work out a plea deal. But the more Jasmine gets to know the bereft Grace, who details “how she got there” in a series of lengthy flashbacks and lots of trite voice-over, the more Jasmine comes to believe the woman is innocent and deserves her freedom. Unfortunately, Jasmine’s never tried a case and her novice reputation precedes her (“You don’t win, you plead,” sneers Grace). In addition, the grouchy Rory is against anything but a plea and openly plans to fire Jasmine when, he predicts, she loses the trial. Great boss.
Meantime, we learn more about Grace’s whirlwind romance with the tattooed, blinged and significantly younger Shannon, a sexy, smooth-talking photographer she meets in a gallery showing she attends at the urging of her best friend, Sarah (Phylicia Rashad). Wedding bells soon ring without Grace doing, let’s just say, her due diligence.
As for the seemingly loyal, sweet-as-pie Sarah, she has an elderly, bedraggled housemate (Cicely Tyson) who we first glimpse in a few jittery flashes that we know can portend nothing good — for anyone.
Issues of everything here from infidelity, identity theft and bank security to suicide, criminal justice and, gulp, torture are cursorily and often risibly handled. A late-breaking, would-be dramatic scene in which Jasmine’s on-duty cop husband (Matthew Law) proves himself as hapless a law enforcer as she is an attorney had my screening audience in stitches.
But it’s Jasmine’s inept and unprofessional behavior during the film’s climactic trial that really sends the film into absurdist territory. It’s outdone only by a final sequence of events with a horror-show twist that might best be described as bonkers.
This flatly shot and designed movie is not, however, without its camp-tastic moments. Atop the list: when the increasingly cruel Shannon, pompously lounging in a living room chair smoking a cigarette, barks the command “Ashtray, bitch!” to his stunned wife, you can just picture the inevitable meme.
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Playing: Available Jan. 17 on Netflix