Film reviews and more since 2009

Mea Culpa (2024) review

Dir. Tyler Perry

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

Tyler Perry’s multi-year Netflix deal has afforded him the opportunity to take more creative swings without the lingering threat of punitive box office numbers. His first-look agreement has led to a lousy courtroom drama (A Fall from Grace), an ambitious and captivating 1930s period drama (A Jazzman’s Blues), and now, one of the most inert and unsexy erotic thrillers since the Sharon Stone/William Baldwin-led Sliver.

Mea Culpa marks Perry’s first attempt at the genre, which seems incongruous with the usual heavy-handed moralism prevalent in even the silliest of Madea comedies. Not only is there nothing erotic about this thriller, but it’s made even more of a slog thanks to two leads with zero chemistry and a meandering third act that sinks with the reveal of a hilariously bad twist.

You can’t make this up either. Our protagonist in Mea Culpa (Latin for “through my fault”) is named Mea. Played by Kelly Rowland, she’s a lawyer with a rapidly disintegrating marriage to the aloof and recently unemployed Kal (Sean Sagar). She’s even hired a private investigator (RonReaco Lee) to follow him since she knows he’s been casually seeing a childhood friend. Her newest client is an arrogant artist named Zyair Malloy (Trevante Rhodes), who may or may not have murdered his girlfriend. It doesn’t take a genre-scholar to see where this is headed.

In the background is Mea’s cancer-stricken mother-in-law (Kerry O’Malley), who openly detests her for marrying her son, and Kal’s brother (Nick Sagar), the district attorney who intends to prosecute Zyair. As is customary with Perry movies, family is never far from the fold, and Mea’s extended clan contributes to the mess as they are all seemingly out to get her.

As Mea tries to get to know Zyair — a starving artist who can somehow afford a two-level loft off of Chicago’s “Highway 57” (no such road exists) — he makes unsubtle sexual advances towards Mea. She’s put off by this initially, but somehow, Zyair’s stone-cold coolness and perpetual state of stoicism, despite being convicted for a crime he implores he didn’t commit, cracks through her professionalism. This might’ve been even slightly believable if Rowland and Rhodes were written like human beings. Rowland makes the most of her generically drawn lawyer archetype, but it’s Rhodes who doesn’t give Zyair a shred of sex appeal outside of his looks. Sure, sometimes that’s all it takes, yet Perry doesn’t afford him a suave brand of swagger. Instead, he’s a bare bones man of (alleged) intrigued underscored by his incessantly whispered dialog and lack of facial expressions. Why Rhodes can’t get better work after shining in the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight is grounds for a documentary with some answers.

Predictably corny dialog further handicaps any budding chemistry between Rowland and Rhodes, but other distractions persist, such as Mea’s frequent calls to her P.I. Being that it’s obvious from the opening minutes that Kal is being unfaithful to Mea (obvious to everyone but Mea, I should say), this game of telephone-tag doesn’t contribute any suspense to the story. You could say it takes us away from the romance between Mea and Zyair, but even with all the time the two spend together, they still don’t muster anything notably steamy, save for a sex scene made unintentionally hilarious thanks to an abundance of paint.

Perry’s attempts at openly trashy narratives have served him well in the past. Acrimony is one of his best and most consistently entertaining films, but Rowland is no Taraji P. Henson and Mea Culpa‘s script is something that star-vehicle never was: incredibly, almost damningly boring.

NOTE: Mea Culpa is now streaming on Netflix.

Starring: Kelly Rowland, Trevante Rhodes, Sean Sagar, Nick Sagar, RonReaco Lee, Shannon Thornton, and Kerry O’Malley. Directed by: Tyler Perry.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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