Prolific playwright-actor-director and fledgling movie mogul Tyler Perry's third feature (second as director) revolves around a divorced, blue-collar father fighting to protect his three daughters from their vindictive mother and her new boyfriend.
Father-of-three Monty (Idris Elba), an Atlanta mechanic, adores his three daughters, 12-year-old Sierra, 10-year-old Lauryn and 6-year-old China (real-life sisters Sierra, Lauryn and China McClain), and has supported them since his divorce. But they've been living with their maternal grandmother, who's just found out that she's terminally ill. She begs Monty not to let her daughter — trashy, no-show mom Jennifer (Tasha Smith), get custody, especially now that Jennifer has moved in with Joe (Gary Sturgis), a brutal drug dealer. Monty works long hours and lives in a one-bedroom apartment, but he immediately agrees, and an ugly run-in with Joe and Jennifer at the funeral strengthens his resolve to protect Sierra, Lauryn and China. Monty even takes on some extra work: Willie (Louis Gossett Jr.), his boss at the garage, operates a small car service and Monty winds up driving for his No. 1 client, high-strung Ivy League-educated lawyer Julia Rossmore (Gabrielle Union). Monty and Julia get off on the wrong foot, but he's forced to ask for her help when social services removes the girls from his home and hands them over to Jennifer and Joe. They abuse the girls physically and emotionally, but they're old hands at working the system and can afford first-class lawyers. Jennifer files for full custody — mostly to spite Monty — while working close together is putting Julia and Monty into the kind of proximity conducive to romantic sparks. But the difference in their backgrounds may be too great to overcome, especially since Julia's stuck-up girlfriends are doing their best to poison her mind against him.
Perry's first original screen project is also the first film shot at the new Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta and the first not to feature straight-talking, pistol-packing, big momma Madea, the hugely popular character with whom Perry and his work are intimately associated. Perry continues using his trademark mix of humor, melodrama and music to address issues of race, class, money, family and faith as they affect African-Americans. There are fewer laughs and more lectures — Julia decries deadbeats who blame prejudice for their own failings, Monty defends responsible black men who support and love their children, Willie explains the historical function of the black community — but there's plenty of sass and soul in between.
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