Thursday, April 18, 2024

Review: "MEA CULPA" May Be Tyler Perry's Craziest Movie... Yet

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 19 of 2024 (No. 1963) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mea Culpa (2024)
Running time:  120 minutes (2 hours)
MPA – R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use
PRODUCERS:  Will Areu, Tyler Perry, Angi Bones, and Kelly Rowland
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Cody Burmester (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Larry Sexton
COMPOSERS:  Amanda Delores and Patricia Jones


Starring:  Kelly Rowland, Trevante Rhodes, Nick Sagar, Sean Sagar, RonReaco Lee, Shannon Thornton, Kerry O'Malley, Arianna Barron, Connor Weil, Maria Gabriela Gonzalez, Paul Ryden, Ava Hill, and Angela Robinson

--Tyler Perry's Mea Culpa could be titled Tyler Perry's I Want to Screw My Client

--The first half of the film is a slow-burn (slightly dull) romantic thriller; the second half is an explosion of WTF moments

--Despite poorly developed and under-utilized characters and middling dialogue, Mea Culpa is a typical shameless Tyler Perry guilty pleasure – that I found somewhat pleasurable.

Mea Culpa is a 2024 drama and legal thriller from writer-director Tyler Perry.  The film is a “Netflix Original,” Perry's fourth for the streamer (as of this writing), and it began streaming on Netflix February 23, 2024.  Mea Culpa follows an ambitious criminal defense attorney who takes on the case of an artist accused of murder, which only further complicates her own dysfunctional marriage.

Mea Culpa introduces Chicago-based defense attorney, Mea Harper (Kelly Rowland).  She and her husband,  Kal Harper (Sean Sagar), are having marital difficulties, made worse by Kal's overbearing and interfering white mother, Azalia (Kerry O'Malley).  Forced to financially support the two of them because of Kal's professional and personal problems, Mea decides to take on the defense of an accused murderer.  Acclaimed portrait painter, Zyair Malloy (Trevante Rhodes), has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Hydie (Maria Gabriela Gonzalez).  Her body is missing, but there is enough blood evidence in Zyair's loft, where he lives and paints, to get him charged with murder.

The problem is that Mea's brother-in-law and Kal's older brother, Raymond “Ray” Harper (Nick Sagar), is the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting Zyair's murder case.  Also complicating matters is that Zyair does not respect boundaries and wants to f**k Mea.  Eventually, Mea will have to admit “mea culpa,” but that might not save her from the myriad conspiracies that surround Zyair Malloy and this case.

Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that means “my fault” or “my mistake,” and it is also an acknowledgment of having done wrong, a wrong that could have been avoided.  It's my fault that I love Tyler Perry's work so much because otherwise, I would not have watched Mea Culpa.  Make no mistake, however; loving Tyler Perry films, no matter how crazy they are, is not a wrong.  Mea Culpa may be Perry's craziest non-Madea film to date, being even wackier than Temptations: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013).

Mea Culpa is quite enjoyable, especially the second hour of the film.  Critics tend to fault Perry's screenwriting, but the plot for Mea Culpa isn't any more nonsensical than a host of legal and erotic thrillers from the past five decades.  I'm thinking of Body Heat (1981), Presumed Innocent (1990), and Primal Fear (1996), to name a few.  If Mea Culpa had been released around a quarter-century ago, it would have been considered a clone of the classic erotic thriller, Basic Instinct (1992).

Where Perry's writing shows weakness is the dialogue and character development.  If the actors in this film seem average or mediocre to you, dear readers, I would bet it is because they are trying to build convincing characters while mouthing stiff, unimaginative dialogue.  The film's actual plot and action is not anywhere near as bland as the dialogue.  In fact, when this film finally explodes in the second half, even bad dialogue can't keep Mea Culpa's cheesy, shameless melodrama and violence from being its trashiest and most glorious self.  The shame of it is that there are some very interesting characters who are not fully realized and who would have made much the action in this film seem plausible, at the very least.  Perhaps, Mea Culpa should have been a miniseries instead of a film.

I must say that Mea Culpa may be Tyler Perry's most beautifully photographed film; kudos to director of photography, Cody Burmester.  The cinematography captures Kelly Rowland's unappreciated beauty, and when she gets nude, the camera celebrates her fineness.  Yes, Trevante Rhodes as Zyair Malloy is also fine, and the camera suggests that his big muscular body also comes with... an impressive endowment.  Yeah, the sex scene between Mea and Zyair is kinda funny, but they look so good pumping and bumping and grinding.

With Mea Culpa, Tyler Perry does unleash “strong sexual content, graphic nudity, language, some violence and drug use” as the “R” rating declares.  However, Perry's first almost NC-17 makes me love his work even more, and it makes me hope for future movies like Mea Culpa or even better.  I'll say “mea culpa” if I'm wrong and be happy about it.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, April 18, 2024

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