Through a long, painful personal journey, shattered hopes and rude awakenings, most of us realize by about the age of 14 that the majority of movies that come out each year are not very good. We don’t need critics to pan garbage like “Meet the Spartans” or for our friends to tell us that the new Paris Hilton movie is terrible – we just know.

Brian Merlos
“This is what you get for making a movie this bad.” (photo courtesy of Universal)

And so, you don’t really need me to tell you that “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,” a sort of comedy starring Martin Lawrence, is atrocious. But allow me to do so anyway.

Lawrence (who in better days starred in legitimate popcorn fare like “Bad Boys” and “Blue Streak”) plays Dr. R.J. Stevens, a very successful TV talk show host with a bestselling book called “Team of Me” that outlines his view on life. As that title may suggest, R.J. has some personal issues that he has repressed in order to create this popular celebrity persona.

R.J. is actually short for Roscoe Jenkins, the product of a traditional Southern black family where the father is strict and tough (and played by Michigan alum James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader), the siblings are big, scary and rough (Michael Clarke Duncan, Cedric the Entertainer and Mo’Nique, in no particular order) and the expectations are always through the roof. Roscoe, never able to live up to the athletic ability of his big brother Otis (Clarke Duncan) or the smarts of his adopted brother Clyde (Cedric), leaves his family for Hollywood and has no intention of ever going back.

However, the past, especially when it involves family, always catches up to the fragile present. Nine years after leaving for Tinseltown, Roscoe receives a sweet, guilt-tripping phone call from his mother reminding him of his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Before he knows it, Roscoe is heading back to rural Georgia along with his “celebrity” fiancée Bianca (Joy Bryant), accurately described in the film as “the black Paris Hilton.”

The rest of the film goes largely as expected: Roscoe’s parents are upset at how ashamed he is of his roots, his siblings are country people that don’t understand his newfound glitz and his hopelessly prissy fiancée irks everyone with her noxiously pretentious existence. As formulaic and dull as all this sounds, it could still make for a passable film. But “Roscoe Jenkins” doesn’t even rise to mediocrity because it stoops so low for laughs and so cluelessly hawks “morals” about family values.

About the third time Roscoe gets in an all-out food fight with one of his cousins (only a half hour or so into the film), it becomes painfully obvious this film is so entirely void of identity that it is willing to do and say anything for a laugh. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to be funny when you’re that desperate. Not only does the film dash any hopes of coherence its tired plot might have had with incessant asides about fat people and funny accents, it doesn’t even get any laughs to show for it.

The purpose of “Roscoe Jenkins” appears to have been to stress the importance of family while providing plenty of laughs. By presenting crass, sophomoric antics in even supposedly serious scenes and creating a despicable character for just about every role, the film proves to be a complete failure.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

At Quality 16 and Showcase

Universal

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