Regardless of whether you can truly go home again, movies such as “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” suggest that you can, and they serve up hearty doses of original kin to comically substantiate that notion. Unfortunately, raunch eclipses deeper zest in this family-reunion romp. And the results aren’t funny enough.
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“Undercover Brother”), the story comes from the comedy tap that features, a la “Sweet Home Alabama,” socially successful but psychically ailing protagonists whom circumstance sends from the big city back to the unsophisticated place they hail from. After the culture shock wanes, reconnection and transformation occur.
The tone is bawdy, the setting is small-town Georgia, and the protagonist is R.J. Stevens (Martin Lawrence), formerly Roscoe Jenkins, a Hollywood self-help celebrity who’s remade himself to prove his worth to his disapproving family.
Summoned home by his parents (Margaret Avery, James Earl Jones) for their 50th anniversary, R.J. arrives with his 10-year son (Damani Roberts) and fame-seeking “Survivor”-winner fiancee (Joy Bryant).
TV-star status notwithstanding, he quickly feels upstaged by all concerned: his formidable sheriff brother (Michael Clarke Duncan), his loudmouth sister (Mo’Nique), his mooching (Mike Epps) and competitive (Cedric the Entertainer) cousins. The latter even dares toshow up with R.J.’s teenhood crush (Nicole Ari Parker) on his arm.
Constructed loosely and presented robustly, the plot consists of shenanigans, fights and rants supplied by R.J.’s boisterous relations. Crude and rude but genuine and flavorful, the experience inspires R.J. to realize what matters in life and love.
Lee initially impresses with the boldness and busyness of his material. Bits ranging from a speaking-in-tongues sex act to a dog-passion moment come at you nonstop and, for a while, contain some brightness.
But the movie’s a sorry misfire overall. The gags get repetitive, the competition passages — which include an obstacle-course climax — play flatly, and incidents such as a skunk encounter are embarrassing.
The characters, meanwhile, lack dimension. By failing to show us anything humanly special in this family, Lee can’t convince us that this bunch could trigger R.J.’s awakening.
The cast members, many of them comedians, range from notably vital (Mo’Nique) to actually funny (Duncan, Epps), and Lawrence makes for an almost likable lead.
Jones and Avery look great on a cast list but have little to do. In the end, there’s enough here to enable you to follow these people, but don’t expect to care deeply about them.
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins
Starring Martin Lawrence, Joy Bryant, Cedric the Entertainer, Mo'Nique
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes