By RICHARD CORLISS
After the curtain calls for his 2004 theater piece, Meet the Browns--one of the strange comedy-musical-melodramas that have made Tyler Perry a hero to the older black Christian community--the author-director came out onstage to talk to his devoted audience. He confided that he'd been asked to produce a TV comedy series but turned it down because it couldn't be religious. "Did you know you can't say 'Jesus' in a sitcom?" he said, to murmurs of disapproval from the faithful. "They told me that, and I was like, You gotta be kiddin' me. If you don't want my God here, you don't want me here either. God has been too good to me to go and try to sell out to get some money. That's O.K. I will sit in a corner and be broke with the Lord before I will sit there and have them give me millions and sell my soul. It ain't gonna happen."
The battle lines were drawn. Since then, it's been God and Tyler Perry against the Hollywood establishment, which thinks that the films made from his plays are too square or weird to be mainstream and has not invested in them. (His movies are distributed by the indie Lionsgate.) Nor does he get much help from critics, whose reactions to his work range mostly from dismissive to baffled. His wild concoctions of brassy humor and fulsome sentiment seem to them out of fashion without being smartly retro. Perry must figure his critics have their minds made up in advance; he doesn't offer the press early screenings of his movies, including his latest, the film version of Meet the Browns, which opens March 21.
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