By now the components of a Tyler Perry drama and its predominantly African-American characters are as ritualized as a church service: The good men and the bad, the women who don't know which way is up and those who have seen the light, the testimonies of solace found in prayer and song, the demonstrations of family durability, the crazy-ass funny talk from Perry playing both the unsinkable matriarch Madea as well as her outspoken brother, Joe.
I Can Do Bad All By Myself, based on Perry's play of the same name, is all that, with a booster shot: It's probably the impresario's best-made movie yet, his most joyful, and his most moving. Certainly it's the first to unite Taraji P. Henson (in strong form as a self-destructive singer who won't do right by the kids her dead crackhead sister has left behind) with Gladys Knight and Mary J. Blige (each blowing the roof off the place, in song). After a summer of phony, pasty rom-coms, do this: See a movie where old-fashioned notions of love, faith, strength, and the possibility of redemption are taken seriously. A-