Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas sticks to the formula

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Starring Tyler Perry and Anna Maria Horsford. Rated G.

For those of you unfamiliar with Tyler Perry’s most popular creation, Madea is a trash-talking grandma who keeps threatening to bitch-slap anybody she finds annoying. Madea (writer-director-producer Perry in bargain-basement drag) has the hands of a linebacker and the patter of a backwoods evangelist. When we first see her in A Madea Christmas, she’s giving the Yuletide spirit the finger by threatening to strangle a holiday shopper.

Fortunately, Madea is also a God-fearing Christian who doesn’t let her nostalgic craving for booze and weed get in the way of affectionately mangling the Scripture. It’s all supposed to be funny in a down-home, get-down kind of way. Especially since Perry’s screenplay keeps reminding us that, once you get past her curmudgeonly urge to slap, choke, and nag, Madea is actually the voice of tolerance.

Of course, as in previous movies in this seemingly endless series, Madea’s less charitable impulses do get the better of her at times. When Madea and her relative Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford) travel to rural Alabama to visit Eileen’s schoolteacher daughter (Tika Sumpter), Madea is asked to look after a classroom full of kids. After a bratty little girl steals Madea’s purse, the old lady teaches her a lesson by binding her to a life-size cross with a string of Christmas lights that cover her arms, legs, and mouth.

If you find a moment like this in exquisitely poor taste, don’t worry. This time around, Madea’s tacky antics take a back seat to a plot that resembles one of those Hallmark Channel Christmas specials about poor but honest farm folk struggling to hang on to the true meaning of the holidays.

As a bonus, we also get the redneck wisdom of Larry the Cable Guy, playing a character who, despite his forward-looking views on everything from cranky in-laws to interracial marriage, likes to talk about how the cold weather shrinks his genitalia.

Add it all up and you get Perry’s typically Jesus-laced message along with one or two half-hearted laughs. Why this stuff makes money continues to baffle me.

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