Written by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Alfre Woodard, Sanaa Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar, Taraji P. Henson, Cole Hauser
Power and money can do plenty to mess with the minds of people and often have them making self-destructive decisions in order to gain more of it. A tale as old as time told in various circumstances throughout the history of humanity. Tyler Perry wanted to take a stab at it by combining two families and how this weaves into mutual connections and destruction. He gives an honest attempt with The Family that Preys but it ultimately falls short due to the same mishaps you can expect with his style of filmmaking.
Alice (Alfre Woodard) and Charlotte (Kathy Bates) have fostered a strong friendship over the years to the point where the latter agrees to fund the wedding of the former’s daughter, Andrea (Sanaa Lathan). The different relationships begin to catch fire as emotions wrap up with the connections between the two families and how much power influences their decisions.
Melodrama has never met a better running mate than Tyler Perry as their combination has made the man a star producer but often dampen even his best filmmaking efforts. With this particular film, he begins with good intentions of displaying the harsh reality of what people will do to attain more power, but it gets bogged down in trying to be shocking and as much turmoil as possible where none of it ever feels potent. Instead, we have a story fragmented into different relationships when I would have sufficed with just one storyline with much more exploration.
This ultimately is what brings down this story where different tethers could have made a solid narrative but bringing them all together makes them laughably implausible and fairly shallow when looking at the tale as a whole. The connection starts from the very top with the matriarchs. Charlotte and Alice have bonded throughout the years and have formed a strong friendship of mutual respect. Then you have Alice’s daughters Andrea and Pam (Taraji P. Henson), who have their own rivalry between each other based on their differences and values. Pam sacrifices to work with her mother at the diner they own while Andrea enjoys the finer things in life and works for Charlotte and her son William (Cole Hauser). Both Andrea and Pam have spouses who have dreams to build their own construction firm but do not have the proper sophistication, as said by Andrea herself All of these relationships get intermingled and while the intention was to be a mess, I assume, it still does not come together cohesively.
The most fruitful aspect of this story comes with the two matriarchs. They present a wonderful bond of two women who have lived their lives and have found companionship with each other. Whenever the film focuses on them and their relationship, this story hits its height not only because narratively it works the best, but we get to spend time with Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates. Two screen legends having fun on-screen is always appreciated. The chemistry they build together creates for all of the other nonsense to look even more ridiculous.
Once it gets to Andrea having an affair with William and how her husband Chris (Rockmond Dunbar) wants Andrea to help get funding for his construction dream, it all just gets trite and incredibly uninteresting. The film certainly positions Andrea to be a villain of the piece, especially the way she speaks to her sympathetic sister Pam and stows money given from her extramarital affair away from her husband. It all just gets so basic and ramifications do not have the type of profundity Perry perhaps thought he could present through this story. By the end, all it warrants is a big shrug because I just wanted to get back to Charlotte and Alice with what they go up to together.
In addition to Bates and Woodard, Tyler Perry has shown he can assemble some great talent to fill out the roles in his films. He includes himself in the cast with a somewhat substantive role but he also brings in folks like Taraji P. Henson, Robin Givens, Cole Hauser, Sanaa Lathan, and several others. They each do what they can with what they receive and as an ensemble try to create intrigue in a story more concerned with shock value than telling a cohesive narrative.
Heightened emotions and fiery fights galore in a story better tooled to expand and focus on just one of the threads, The Family that Preys has just enough to enjoy to not make this a complete wash. The narrative gets spread out far too thin, which leaves each storyline feeling underserved as a result, which is a shame considering the potential of each individual pocket.