Tyler Perry’s latest is a soap opera in denial. It comes complete with all the mid-afternoon melodrama trappings: Sniveling caricatures of rich people, cheap marital affairs, fighting families, and a score composed mainly of generic piano music. By all rights The Family The Preys should be the worst movie of the year, but it lands more in the merely bad bin, thanks to great performances from Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard; and that warm, gooey glow that seems to follow Tyler Perry around wherever he goes.
It’s the meandering story of two families, joined at the hip by the unlikely friendship of their matriarchs. Charlotte (Bates) and Alice (Woodard) have been friends for thirty years, though they come from very different worlds. Charlotte is a rich, corporate tycoon and Alice runs a humble diner in the shady part of town. Alice is reserved and god fearing, while Charlotte seems almost to suffer from a split personality disorder. When she’s with Alice she’s a freewheeling, kind, and generous woman. Whenever we see her without her friend, she’s a horrible rich bitch, ripped straight off the set of Dallas or Falcon Crest. I’m sure when Perry wrote his script it was his intention to show the good effect that Alice has on her pal, but the contrast in Charlotte’s behavior is so extreme that it feels like Bates is playing two completely separate characters. Maybe the rich bitch version is her evil twin.
Luckily, most of the time when we see Charlotte she’s hanging out with Alice. Together, Bates and Woodard have fantastic chemistry, and any time they’re on screen, you forget the rest of the garbage that composes this movie and simply settle in to watch them dispense wisdom about living life. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, their story is not the only thing going on in this film. In fact it’s more of a side trip. The real story here is a ludicrous bunch of corporate maneuvering and bed hopping involving their children, who range in mawkish caricature from sassy black girl to rich, white, corporate tool.
Alice’s daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) is cheating on her husband with Charlotte’s son and her boss William (Cole Hauser), the aforementioned rich corporate tool. Andrea’s husband Chris (Rockmund Dunbar), is literally the most clueless man on the face of the earth, and we follow him around as he’s given every indication under the sun that his wife his cheating on him, only to watch him shake his head in bewildered but polite confusion after every revelation, wandering out of frame as in the dark as he was before he walked on camera. It becomes an unintentional running gag throughout the movie. Chris is confronted with indications that his wife is cheating, he’s so stupid that he doesn’t get it; wash, rinse, repeat.
Meanwhile, there’s a bunch of corporate muckity muck going on between Charlotte and her son. Robin Givens shows up… for some reason and gets involved with that. Rich people sit in conference rooms sniveling at each other, as if Perry learned everything he knows about corporate finance from watching and re-watching Robocop. It’s utterly laughable and all you can really do is sit through it and hope that Perry’s script gets back to the story of Charlotte and Alice’s friendship, before you roll your eyes right out of your head.
Bad as this script is, it’s easy to see what it is about Tyler Perry himself that people find so appealing. There’s genuine warmth in those moments between Bates and Woodard, meanwhile Perry doesn’t do so bad himself in a minor role as the husband of one of Woodard’s daughters. His character is one of the few in the film that comes off as a real person, he energizes everything whenever he’s on screen. You’ll want to give him a hug. Tyler Perry has something, there’s no doubt. But in The Family That Preys, it’s buried under by an avalanche of unbearable, soap opera drivel.