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'Nobody's Fool' review: Tiffany Haddish and Tika Sumpter gamely put on a sister act

Chicago Tribune

The Tyler Perry Studios logo signifies many things: a successful business model for production and distribution; a tremendous amount of work, for a wide, deep, underserved African-American talent pool; and, like clockwork, every few months, another Perry film offering a few laughs, a little sex, a lesson or two in healing and the power of family.

Judging from “Nobody’s Fool,” it’s time for this talented, driven, versatile force to concentrate on craft, along with his prodigious output.

The new one’s a passable dash-through of a romantic comedy, bailed out periodically by the performers. But the actors are working harder than they should for a reason: because the material needs help.

Tika Sumpter plays Danica, a hotshot Manhattan advertising executive who earns “in the upper six figures.” Successful in business, foolish in love, she’s likely being duped by her long-distance virtual boyfriend, whom she’s never met, or even seen via video chat.

Recently out of prison, her wild, wild sister, Tanya, enlists the help of MTV’s “Catfish” to get to the truth. Tiffany Haddish plays her, and the best laugh in the picture is the way she rolls into her sister’s swank condo and takes stock of what she’s been missing. Has it really only been a little over a year since “Girls Trip” came out, and launched Haddish into stardom?

Problem is, her follow-up roles in things like “Night School” haven’t done her talents justice. In “Nobody’s Fool” she pitches everything super-broadly, even throwaway bits.

In Perry’s films, protagonists typically stay in their ruts of self-destructive behavior until they wake up, smell the coffee and get with the real Mr. Right. “Nobody’s Fool” lets you know instantly that Danica is A.) wasting her time with her so-called boyfriend, and B.) talking herself out of the flawed but sexy/sensitive/capable/worthy suitor (Omari Hardwick). Owner of Danica’s favorite coffee emporium, he signals his worthiness by presenting her each and every morning with a long-stemmed red rose.

While everyone else sweats and strains to give “Nobody’s Fool” some energy, Whoopi Goldberg (as the sisters’ perpetually stoned mother) goes the other way, taking it easy and slyly becoming a stealth asset to the picture. In one scene she reminds Danica that it’s “the tiny little perfections in the very flawed people you come across” that matter. That’s a good line, and it stands out. Too much of “Nobody’s Fool” makes do with well-worn exchanges and contrived, overheard conversations.

This is the 22nd feature film Perry has directed in 13 years. (He was also terrific as the media-savvy attorney in “Gone Girl.”) Next spring he’s releasing another Madea movie, showcasing Tyler’s sassy gold mine of a grandmother character one last time, or so he says. (Don’t take the bet.)

Also, this is a silly detail, but Tyler’s direction is not helped by that fake-looking digital Manhattan skyline outside Danica’s living room. It looks like third-tier regional market morning television. In more ways than one, Tyler Perry can do better, in addition to doing so much.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phillipstribune

“Nobody’s Fool” — 2 stars

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout, and for drug material)

Running time: 1:50

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