There was a time once, and not so very long ago either, when a chainsaw-wielding psychopath in a Madea film would have been Madea herself, as was so memorably, dispiritingly seen in the character's very first big-screen appearance, 2005's Diary of a Mad Black Woman. But times change, and with Boo 2! A Madea Halloween, we find Tyler Perry's variously beloved, tolerated, and outright despised character menaced by slasher-movie killers racing after her with, aye, chainsaws, and does she stand her ground? Does she, indeed, grab those chainsaws right out of their hands and chase them right back? No. She runs, panicked and screaming, and I found myself outraged on her behalf, even as I've never really liked Madea ever, in anything. But still, this is not my Madea. This is some tired-out impostor.

Perry - the writer director, and star of 10 films now featuring the loud, judgmental grandma he plays in the world's least-convincing drag (one of those 10 was a mere cameo) - has been surprisingly frank on the Boo 2 press tour that he'd be content to never make another Madea film, but does it for the fans. I suspect that, with this movie, he is attempting to alienate those fans in the hopes of not having to do another one. This transparently feels like the work of a creator who is starting to actively resent his job, as a performer, as a writer, as a director.

Not least because of how lazily Boo 2 re-runs the basic notion of 2016's Boo! A Madea Halloween (Boo 2 is the first direct sequel in the Madea series, and Perry's second overall, after 2010's Why Did I Get Married Too?, from when he was a very different filmmaker). Once again, the action revolves around Madea's hapless nephew Brian (Perry also) trying to deal with his rebellious, too-sexual daughter Tiffany (Diamond White), just celebrating her 18th birthday on 30 October, and along with it, her newfound certainty that being a legal adult entitles her to making decisions with absolutely no consequences. Once again, those decisions involve the local fratboys, including hunky idiot Jonathan (Yousef Erakat), and their drunken, sexy Halloween party, which this time around takes place at Camp Derrick, where a man went on a small murder spree some years ago. Once again, Brian is yelled at by his cantankerous elders: his dad Joe (Perry, a third and final time), Madea, and hangers-on Bam (Cassi Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). Once again, these four colorfully obnoxious old people find themselves thrust into the matter of a horror film - a slasher, as should be obvious.

The most obvious changes are all backloaded and spoilery, but there's one I can certainly talk about: this is, by a comfortable margin, the least "let me teach you a life lesson" film Perry has ever made. Boo 1 was already that, I thought, but it still had a pretty overt streak of conservative family values. Boo 2 draws on that - Tiffany is still an absolute terror for no obvious reason other than that her behavior offends Perry, or at least Perry's target audience - but it doesn't do anything with it. Much like the very same slashers it's modelling, Boo 2 jams the brakes on the second that the primary conflict has been resolved, without even the smallest impression of lessons having been learned. Brian is a colossal asshole, that might be the one lesson everybody learns, but whether his colossal assholeness means that Tiffany will be better behaved is up for debate (he seems, anyway, to care more about sticking it to his ex-wife than being a good dad).

Anyway, while we might come to a Madea film for the moralising, we certainly don't come for the plotting. Mostly, I think, we come for the comic misadventures of the characters, and based on his emphases - and willingness to shoot plot logic in the head in service to comedy - I'm pretty sure Perry agrees with me. I'm also pretty sure Perry hates that fact, based on how lifeless and how, frankly cruel the film is this time around. A substantial percentage of Joe's dialogue is devoted to making fun of Madea, not as his tedious sister, but as a character in a fiction, specifically to mocking how bad Perry's drag shtick has gotten. That's not an attack you lobby at your most prominent creation unless you largely agree with it as a criticism.

It's also weirdly ill-tempered. I think, but I do not know, that the film was a surpassing vulgar affair; many, many times where a character seems about to say "shit", they downgrade to something else, and it sounds like that downgrading might have happened in post-production. There's also one muttered, garbled "motherfucker", a word that has absolutely no place in the beatific Christian morality fables that were Perry's stock in trade for so long - the Boo films are entirely stripped of religion except as barely-noticeable window dressing - and feels petulant and nasty cropping up here, I think for the first time in Perry's film oeuvre.

The result is a frankly dispiriting, distressing movie, one that doesn't so much move its characters through a plot as drop them in a bunch of scenes that maximise the potential for them to scream loudly and run as quickly as their variously malformed bodies allow. It's indifferent filmmaking, with peculiarly bad sound mixing and a general tendency towards underlighting that is, I suppose, meant to come off as "atmospheric", but just reads as an error. That being said, Boo 2 does get at least one thing right: compared to Boo 1, it has a much surer sense of how, mechanically, a horror comedy works. It's done the work of figuring out what about a slasher movie is easy to parody, what needs to be played straight, and how the specific comic cadences of Madea and company fit into that framework. Which isn't the same as accusing it of being funny - the director's obvious disinterest in doing anything with this material but getting it over with as soon as possible takes care of that - but funniness is something that seems like it might potentially have been within this film's purview. And I'll admit that the crowd I saw it with was absolutely in love with every bit of it, and far be it from me to tell people that what they're laughing at isn't funny. Even when it isn't.

Reviews in this series
Diary of a Mad Black Woman (Grant, 2005)
Madea's Family Reunion (Perry, 2006)
Madea Goes to Jail (Perry, 2009)
I Can Do Bad All By Myself (Perry, 2009)
Madea's Big Happy Family (Perry, 2011)
Madea's Witness Protection (Perry, 2012)
Boo! A Madea Halloween (Perry, 2016)
Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (Perry, 2017)
A Madea Family Funeral (Perry, 2019)

Other films in this series, yet to be reviewed
A Madea Christmas (Perry, 2013)