The Family That Preys Movie Review

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Tyler Perry is trying. Instead of sticking exclusively to the urban morality plays that made him a certified superstar, he appears to be broadening his niche-based appeal. And he's doing so by taking risks both in and outside the medium. Sure, most of his movies have been nothing more than mere translations of his theatrical works, but efforts like Daddy's Little Girls, and now The Family That Preys, show an artist who is at least endeavoring to expand his horizons.

Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) have been friends for over 30 years. The former runs a small diner. The latter is the CEO of a local construction company. Alice has two daughters -- snooty career gal Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) and honest, hardworking Pam (Taraji P. Henson). Charlotte has a conniving son named William (Cole Hauser) who cheats on his wife Jillian (Kadee Strickland). After marrying the decent Chris (Rockmond Dunbar), Andrea begins a torrid affair with her boss -- who happens to be William. He wants to take over for his aging mother, believing it is his birthright. In the meantime, a new employee (Robin Givens) stirs things up for the adulterous duo. Soon, all the simmering secrets in the Pratt and Cartwright households will be out in the open.

The key to any Tyler Perry film is a strict moral compass, and The Family That Preys has its needle settled solidly on "E" -- as in "exaggerated." Unlike many of his previous films, this movie has so much plot it almost crumbles under the weight of all the convolutions and complexities. There's betrayal, terminal illness, paternity, sibling rivalry, backstabbing business deals, and plenty of interpersonal squabbles. Perry clearly wants to mimic the sizzling Southern Gothics of the old school cinematic sudser, making the subterfuge in the boardroom as well as the bedroom ripe with dishonesty, greed, and all manner of marital hysterics. Of course, this means The Family That Preys has to give in to its narrative needs. Just as some interesting character depth is being discovered, it's time to tie up another loose plot thread.

All the standard Perry-isms are present and ready to placate the fanbase: Hard work trumps haughty entitlement; God loves those who proclaim his power; women are the broken backbone of society; men are dogs, pigs, or some equally scurrilous combination of the same. It's all heroes and villains, good guys showing their frequent flaws while the bad ones beg for their eventual (and always audience-friendly) comeuppance. The involvement of accomplished actors like Bates and Woodard definitely up his game, but Perry still suffers from a clear case of mega-melodramatics, even for a soap opera. Simple situations are turned into kitchen sink calamities, all so that our filmmaker can favor us with more "Jesus Saves" bon mots.

If this sounds cynical, it's because Perry is usually better than this. His stage work, though clearly conceived as raucous revivals, has an energy and a drive that's hard to recreate onscreen. Oddly enough, he doesn't try. Even when dealing with material taken directly from his theatrical revues, Perry has to busy things up with underdeveloped subplots and conflicting character motivation. It's clear he is starting to understand the differences between play and screenwriting, and a cast like this can deliver little except excellence. To call The Family That Preys a transitional effort would be accurate and fair. Perry is indeed trying. To consider it a total triumph however would be foolish.

We're down to one last light, now will you replace some bulbs?

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The Family That Preys Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG, 2008

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