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Review: The Family That Preys

No one keeps the pot boiling like Tyler Perry, whose third feature in 12 months recycles familiar ingredients according to his own unique formula, serving up a lip-smacking, finger-snapping sudser about two strong-willed Southern matriarchs -- one black, the other white -- who set off for some cross-country bonding while their ungrateful offspring act up at home. In the prolific helmer's sixth and most polished film, "The Family That Preys," a change of scenery and strong female roles for Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates could reach beyond his usual demographic, which tends to prefer the bigscreen versions of his familiar stage plays.


Beginning where most melodramas end, with a wedding, pic puts little stock in the institution of marriage. Filthy-rich Charlotte Cartwright (Bates) married into money, but not happiness, while her blue-collar best friend, Alice Pratt (Woodard), struggled to put eldest daughter Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) through school by working long hours at a diner. Theirs is an unlikely but genuine friendship, with both widows determined to see their own children find better luck in love.


After Charlotte's son, William (Cole Hauser), elopes without her permission, she offers to host Andrea's wedding to working-class Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) on her estate -- unaware that her silver-spoon son and Alice's greasy-spoon daughter will use the occasion to rekindle an old flame.


Lingering only long enough to sow trouble, Perry cuts away before the wedding bells chime and rejoins the married couple several years later to reveal a very different dynamic in their relationship: Andrea frequently stays late at the office (where she works under William) and routinely snaps at Chris, a construction worker with dreams of running his own business. Perry, who established his own empire from the ground up, is both a dreamer and a realist, and Chris is one of those chivalrous male characters that recur throughout his work -- the steadfast soul on whom mad black women can depend (Perry casts himself as Chris' best friend and brother-in-law).


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