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Diary of a Bad 'Woman'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2005; Page WE41

TO REVIEW "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" is really to review three different movies, none of which is very good.

The first is a broadly melodramatic romance in which Helen (Kimberly Elise), the titular mad black woman and spurned spouse of insanely successful lawyer Charles McCarter (Steve Harris), finds love in the arms of a blue-collar Adonis named Orlando (Shemar Moore). How broad is it? Let me put it this way: CinemaScope ain't wide enough to contain the scenery chewing here, which includes a wife getting even with her lying, cheating dog of a husband for throwing her out of the house (literally) by throwing him out of his wheelchair . . . and into a bathtub filled with two feet of water.

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Oh, that's right, I didn't tell you about the wheelchair yet, did I?

Charles, able-bodied enough to engage in some strenuous wife-tossing at the start of the movie, ends up almost paralyzed after being shot by a disgruntled underworld client (Gary Sturgis) who has been accused of murder and whom Charles is unable to get off. That, for simplicity's sake, we'll call movie No. 2: a made-for-TV-style crime/courtroom/medical drama featuring a villain whose heavy-breathing histrionics makes him come across like Darth Vader out of uniform and Charles's skanky mistress (Lisa Marcos) who wants to pull the plug on her sugar daddy but who is stopped, ironically, by the scorned wife, who has yet to collect her revenge.

Movie No. 3 kicks in when the now homeless Helen seeks shelter and solace in the home of her grandmother, Madea, a white-wigged battle-ax straight out of "Big Momma's House." Played in over-the-top, droopy-bosomed drag by screenwriter Tyler Perry, who also acts as Madea's geriatric, pot-smoking brother, Joe, and Helen's saintly cousin, Brian, the role is actually quite funny, in the bare-knuckles manner of "In Living Color" or "Mad TV." But what it's doing in the middle of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," I'll never know. The NASCAR-worthy lane changes and gear shifting practiced by music video director-turned-filmmaker Darren Grant left me with whiplash.

In fairness, it should be noted that my views were in the distinct minority at a recent promotional screening, where the largely female, largely African American audience whooped and hollered in approval of every bathetic plot turn, growing silent only when I was inwardly howling in outrage at lines like "I don't even know where to begin to pick up the pieces of my life."

Based on playwright Perry's wildly successful stage version of the same inspirational story, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" is not without its perverse pleasures, chief among which is his now-infamous characterization of Madea, which gives every actor who has ever stepped into women's clothing a run for the money, and makes Barry Humphries's portrayal of Dame Edna look like Oscar material. Be that as it may, I could have done without the rest of the movie, which alternates between the treacle and preachiness of a fairy tale and the bug-eyed horror of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Sure, I laughed. Yes, I cried. But mostly I just wanted to throw up.

DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN (PG-13, 116 minutes) -- Contains drug use and scenes of emotional and physical cruelty. Area theaters

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