By Christopher Kelly
Just when you had finally managed to erase your bad memories of Norbit, along comes Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, another uncommonly mean-spirited comedy that trades on every African-American stereotype on record.
Buried deep within writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s screenplay is an intriguing story about an upwardly mobile black man trying to assimilate into the white world without betraying his humble roots. But first you have to endure 100-plus minutes of people knocking each other senseless, in between cracking cruel jokes about fat women, nerdy kids, gold-digging divas and even rib-eating carnivores.
Martin Lawrence plays the title character, a successful Jerry Springer-like TV talk-show host who is cajoled by his parents into attending their large family reunion in Georgia. Roscoe has stayed away for nine years, mainly because he has never been able to earn the approval of his stern father (James Earl Jones). He would also much rather forget his childhood rivalry with his cousin Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), who — during a family reunion two decades earlier — stole the girl of Roscoe’s dreams from right beneath his nose.
As with last year’s Wild Hogs, the normally antic Lawrence plays the straight man, a role that suits him surprisingly well. Roscoe suffers one indignity after another: A strident fiancée (Joy Bryant) refuses to offer any moral support, and his sister (Mo’Nique) and cousin (Mike Epps) relish any opportunity to recount humiliating stories from Roscoe’s youth. Even his ultra-buff older brother, played by Michael Clarke Duncan, seems to exist solely to point out to Roscoe that his muscles aren’t very big. Lawrence endures all of this punishment with grace and even sweetness, so that we actually start to root for Roscoe to hook up with his childhood sweetheart, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker).
A shame, then, that Lee (The Best Man) didn’t have a bit more faith in his leading man — or, for that matter, in the audience.