The sun never sets on the Tyler Perry Empire: The minute you finish watching one it seems there's already a new one opening next week. But this old-school melodrama actually worth a trip back to the theaters: Thanks to some first-rate acting from its stars, it ranks among Perry's best.
Charlotte Cartwright (Kathy Bates) and Alice Pratt (Alfre Woodward) are from entirely different worlds, but for the past 30 years they've been the best of friends. Charlotte is the tough, draconian matriarch of a very wealthy southern family that still maintains a controlling interest in the Cartwright Construction company, even though that family has been reduced to Charlotte and her arrogant son, William (Cole Hauser). Alice, on the other hand, is a single, working-class mother with two now-grown daughters, Andrea (Sanaa Lathan) and Pam (Taraji P. Henson). Down-to-Earth Pam works with Alice at her diner, while frighteningly ambitious Andrea is on a completely different career trajectory: Having received her masters in finance, she's now working as a high-level accountant for William; she's also sleeping with him despite the fact that they're both married, Andrea to Chris (Rockmond Dunbar), who works on Cartwright construction sites, and William to Jillian (KaDee Strickland), whom Charlotte loathes. Pam husband, Ben (Perry), works alongside Chris, but unlike his cuckolded brother-in-law, who wants to start his own construction company and hopes William will be his first investor, Ben is content with his lot in life. It's a delicate balance of relationships that begins to tremble when Charlotte coldly passes over William to hire Yale grad Abigail Dexter (Robin Givens) as Cartwright Construction's new COO. William is furious and plans on squeezing his mother out of the company by voting her off the board of directors, while Charlotte has plans of her own: She's bought a vintage turquoise Caddy convertible and has convinced Alice to accompany her on a fancy-free road trip west.
"Everybody has a story," Alice tells Pam, but in a Tyler Perry movie everyone has a least two. But grounding this whirlwind of inter-personal relationships is the lovely friendship between Charlotte and Alice that's completely sold by two very fine actresses. It's hard to reconcile the Charlotte we see telling her son that theirs is the kind of family that preys on the weak with the Charlotte who dreams of traveling the country like Gayle and Oprah, and who gets misty over corn like "I Hope You Dance," and in the end her character doesn't quite jibe. The direction is also strictly soap-opera grade and the production design surprisingly uninspired, but no matter. It's all about the drama, and with Bates and Woodard on board, it delivers. leave a comment --Ken Fox