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Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

`THIS IS FOR every black woman who's ever had a problem with a black man!'' gun-toting grandma Madea declares as she trashes the mansion of her granddaughter's soon-to-be ex-husband.

That battle cry governs most of ``Diary of a Mad Black Woman,'' the screen adaptation of Tyler Perry's popular stage play. It's a stacked- deck exercise in which the betrayed woman is unbelievably innocent and the no-good man cartoonishly wicked.

But the movie is made interesting by a tower of lopsided elements Perry piles onto the basic premise. By the time it's over, ``Diary'' has touched on everything ever seen in African-American movies, along with nods to ``What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?'' and ``An Officer and a Gentleman.''

And while this can't help but hold your attention, the pleasant surprise is that - despite its burlesque, derivativeness and simplistic sermonizing - ``Diary'' comes up with some fascinating character bits. And director Darren Grant, a music vid guy making his feature debut, presents it all in a smooth, elegant package that almost disguises the fact that what we're watching is the narrative equivalent of an eight-ring circus.

Our too-good-(and naive)-to-be-true heroine, Helen McCarter (a beautiful and expressive Kimberly Elise), is blindsided when her attorney husband Charles (``The Practice's'' typecast Steve Harris) throws her out of their Atlanta mansion, which is roughly the size of Macon (and playwright Perry's actual home, apparently).

On their 18th anniversary. And replaces her with his trashy mistress, with whom he has two children, none of which Helen knew anything about.

Though that sounds like valid grounds for breaking the most ironclad pre-nup, Helen has no place to go but to Madea's house in the ghetto.

Played by Perry in padded drag (he also appears as lecherous old Uncle Joe and cousin Brian, a decent lawyer sadly married to Helen's drug-addicted childhood pal), Madea is one of those large, loud caricatures we know well from Martin Lawrence skits and Eddie Murphy's ``Nutty Professor'' movies. But she also leads a long parade of folks who put pampered Helen back in her proper place, then help her find her real self and its accompanying esteem. These include a super-handsome, soulfully sensitive-to-her-needs suitor (``Soul Train'' and soap star Shemar Moore); Helen's God-fearing mother (Cicely Tyson); and, well, God, who works in more and more mysterious, not to mention melodramatic, ways as the story progresses.

Though lousy with exchanges such as ``What happened to her?'' ``Life,'' ``Diary'' addresses some behavioral and spiritual issues in deep, unexpected ways. It is especially lucid on the subject of vengeance, and even incorporates a debate on that trendy movie topic of the moment, euthanasia. This among the flatulence and stoner jokes, gospel shout-outs and empowerment fantasy fulfillment.

It's not what you'd call great writing, but you can see how it bought Perry that mansion.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670


DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN - Two and one half stars

(PG-13: violence, drug use, language)

Starring: Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Shemar Moore, Tyler Perry, Cicely Tyson.

Director: Darren Grant.

Running time: 1 hr. 56 min.

Playing: Wide release.

In a nutshell: Everything you can imagine - Christianity, cross-dressing, guns, line dances, exquisite meals - gets shoehorned into a story about a dumped wife's journey of revenge and redemption.




Steve Harris plays a philandering husband, and Kimberly Elise is his wife out for revenge, in ``Diary of a Mad Black Woman.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 25, 2005

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