Writer-director Tyler Perry dishes out his usual popular, sweetened sermon in Daddy's Little Girls: Go to church, respect your elders, don't smoke cigarettes, don't do drugs, be a good man or woman, and treat your kids right. Or else, brothers and sisters, you will be busted. But without Perry himself sucking up air in the role of the whirling, justice-dispensing Big Black Momma known as Madea that character is MIA here, which is just as well while Eddie Murphy drips with latex fat in Norbit this latest market-savvy bit of circuit preaching is less cartoonish than Perry's previous big-tent revival meetings.
In fact, the leading man and lady are downright swanky. Compelling Idris Elba (immortalized as Stringer Bell on The Wire) plays a down-market garage mechanic struggling to be an ace single father to his three young daughters. (His ex-wife is a skinny, gold-digging, hustling shrew hooked up with an evil drug dealer; Perry has never been accused of subtlety.) Elegant, funny Gabrielle Union is a driven, single, fancytown Atlanta lawyer who, feeling ancient at age 31, has never been able to find a black man worthy of her self-regarding fine self, however intently her girlfriends scramble to send her on blind dates with candidates who turn out to be just-say-no losers. (See comment about subtlety above.)
There's no doubt that the Uptown Cinderella is meant to be with the Prince in Overalls, and that the skanky ex-wife and her boyfriend are due for the slammer. But first, the filmmaker trots out every possible African-American stereotype this side of a latex-fat Momma for comic show-and-tell, including the playa who cheats on his wife, the buppie snob, and the uncouth 40-year-old rapper. Then again, he also brings on the warmth with a rousing community meeting (to kick the drug-dealing scum out) led by the great Louis Gossett Jr., and a thrilling church service that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. At any rate, it makes you happy to receive the Word of Perry. B