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Originally published Friday, February 25, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Raw emotion, slapstick a messy mix in "Mad Black Woman"

Here's what I'm told: "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," a drama-comedy about a scorned woman who rebuilds her life then returns unexpectedly...

Special to The Seattle Times

Here's what I'm told: "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," a drama-comedy about a scorned woman who rebuilds her life then returns unexpectedly to her monstrous husband in his hour of need, was written by actor-playwright-stage-director sensation Tyler Perry. Perry plays three supporting roles in "Diary," including one as the heroine's gun-toting grandma, Madea, a character who has proved hugely popular in several of his plays, including the successful theatrical production of "Diary."

Here's what I know: Whatever makes "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" tick on stage, the material comes off as a serious miscalculation in Perry and director Darren Grant's film adaptation.

Kimberly Elise, superb in last year's "The Manchurian Candidate," plays Helen, whose 18-year marriage to womanizing attorney Charles (Steve Harris) dissolves when he literally throws her out of their mansion.

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman," with Kimberly Elise, Steve Harris, Tyler Perry, Shemar Moore, Cicely Tyson. Directed by Darren Grant, written by Tyler Perry. Rated PG-13 for adult situations, drug and sexual humor. 116 minutes. Several theaters.

Ending up at the far more commonplace home Madea shares with her rascal of a brother, Joe (Perry), Helen re-connects with her estranged family (Cicely Tyson plays her mom), takes a job as a waitress and dates studly steelworker Orlando (Shemar Moore).

Just when things get serious between the lovebirds, a crisis causes Helen to go back to desperate Charles, where she pulls a scary Bette Davis (as in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?") number on him.

Passions run deep, rage flows freely and catharsis blossoms in "Diary." Eventually good men say the things Perry thinks women want to hear, and forgiveness between all the principals begets renewal.

(Perry also plays Helen's cousin, a divorce lawyer who keeps his own junkie wife at a distance.)

Here's the problem: Running simultaneously through this heavy-going domestic dither is a completely different movie akin to Martin Lawrence's "Big Momma's House" and Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Lots of makeup, prosthetic breasts, mad chatter and, of course, flatulence. Perry's foul-mouthed Madea and crusty Joe aren't characters in the same universe as Helen.

They're sketch fodder that may be lovingly inspired by memories of real people, but they have no business here.

The disconnect between the film's raw emotion and burlesque contrivance frequently makes one think of Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central, where strained dramas are always subverted by ill-fitting, extraneous elements.

Chappelle, however, has inspiration on his side. There's no excuse for "Diary of a Mad Black Woman."

Tom Keogh:

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