Granted I’m not the preferred demographic for a film like Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, considering there is only one white girl in the entire movie and her sole purpose is to be ripped on by the other characters, but I still went into it with high hopes, fooled by the DVD cover proclaiming “Totally Hilarious!” After all, it did have an all star cast including Martin Lawrence (I’m pretending I never saw Big Momma’s House), Cedric the Entertainer, Michael Clarke-Duncan and James Earl Jones, who you may remember from such films as Field of Dreams and Coming to America. Surely James Earl wouldn’t lead me astray! There was a glimmer of hope as the credits faded into a chuckle-worthy faux Access Hollywood segment introducing Martin Lawrence as Dr. R J Stevens (a.k.a. the black Jerry Springer), but then the actual movie began.
RJ, known to his family as Roscoe Jenkins, has made a fortune propelling his mantra “The Team of Me.” He’s scored a kinky finace, Bianca (Joy Bryant), who just won Survivor (and apparently left her brain on the island), and is father to the most unbelievably tolerant son, Jamal. He’s on top of the world until he agrees to bring Bianca home to meet the parents at their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration. What follows is not unlike the Ben Stiller comedy Meet the Parents; the airline manages to lose his bag, RJ is forced into a ridiculous store-bought ensemble and hustled out of three hundred dollars before he even pulls into the driveway.
From his big brother Otis (Michael Clarke Duncan), to his fast-talking sister Betty (Mo'nique), to his scheming cousin Reggie (Mike Epps), RJ’s family immediately disregards his fame and puts him back in his place. He also faces off once more against his cousin-cum-adopted-brother Clyde (Cedric the Entertainer), a player who took pride in beating RJ in everything and stole the love of both RJ’s father and the woman RJ loved, Lucinda (Nicole Ari Parker). As RJ desperately tries to win his family’s approval, he starts to realize that there are more important things than being a winner.
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins represents Martin Lawrence’s attempt at a feel-good family flick, but only feels good when it’s over. Despite some humorous performances from Mo’nique and Mike Epps, the jokes are all old and Lawrence’s performance feels phoned in with a few ridiculous cross-eyed expressions for good measure. The story is painfully predictable, which would be fine if we were laughing so hard we didn’t notice, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Sadly there was a bit of potential in the big-time actor comes home to dysfunctional family concept, but it’s lost in the competing performances of the headlining comedians.
Ultimately, there just isn’t much of a reason to pick up Lawrence’s latest flop. Lawrence’s humor works best when he’s playing off a straighter-edged character like Will Smith in Bad Boys or Tim Robbins in Nothing to Lose, but when you throw him into a fish bowl of outrageous comedic talent, he winds up going belly up.
The DVD is just jam packed with features, which would be great if you actually wanted to extend the pain of suffering through the film the first time. An alternate opening offers a longer view of RJ’s talk show featuring a classic plotline of “you didn’t change for me so I slept with your sister.” Unfortunately, the scene isn’t quite as funny as anything you can get from classic Jerry, and the Access spoof they wound up using works much better.
The disk continues with hours of deleted and extended scenes. Okay maybe it just feels like hours because the twenty scenes are all so painfully boring. Mostly they are just scenes from the film extended with forgettable gags or horrible one-liners, though there are a few scenes that are worth checking out. Namely there are several sequences featuring RJ’s uber white agent (who is all but cut from the film) that offer some wonderful commentary on Hollywood and feature some legitimately funny dialogue. After that there are about ten scenes of either Mo’Nique or Mike Epps wearing out their welcome and a few more featuring RJ and a miscreant animal (as if there weren’t enough of those already in the film.)
After a somewhat amusing outtakes reel, there are several featurettes. The first is a “Making of” reel which is goes into details of how they cast the film. The best part is when super nerd Producer Scott Stuber suggests that the film has characters “we all know” (check him out and you’ll see why that’s funny.) Otherwise the reel is mostly made up of the comedians talking about how funny they all are. You almost feel bad for Margaret Avery and James Earl Jones, who seem to have thought they were making a legitimate family film. The second featurette is about the location, which is basically a tribute to the bugs and rain in Louisiana. It’s entertaining enough, mainly because Cedric the Entertainer complains for ten minutes straight.
The final featurette is called “Going Home” and the cast mates talk about their families and how they reacted after making it big. This quickly turns into stories about all the different people who started asking them for money. The most interesting detail is that Michael Clarke Duncan was actually a security officer on the stage of the show Martin before he made it big. He also talks about going home and rubbing his success in the face of nay-saying ex-girlfriends...awesome. The features close with a Joe “We’re Family” music video, which is a decent R&B song ruined by clips from the film.
Finally, there is a Director’s Commentary with Malcolm D. Lee. It doesn’t offer any insight into the film, since his role seems to have been trumped by the improvising comedians. The film is dubbed in French and English and has English, Spanish and French subtitles, though I’m wondering if classic lines like “I’m just a squirrel looking for a nut” really translate.