By Ruth Kinane
March 30, 2018 at 08:11 PM EDT
Chip Bergmann/Lionsgate

From the movie’s tagline (“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”) and the tense trailer, you’d be forgiven for walking into Tyler Perry’s latest drama expecting Taraji P. Henson to do what she does best: serve us bats— anger as the abused, pissed-off woman you love in spite of (because of?) her psychotics.

But arrive at the theater with those gleeful, if sadistic, expectations and you’ll leave disappointed. The 20 or so minutes we get of Henson’s rage are not enough to warrant the title or the ticket price.

Let’s rewind: During the movie’s opening courtroom scene, Melinda (Henson) is mandated to attend anger management counseling and commanded to stay away from her ex-husband and his wife-to-be, per a restraining order. Cut to Mel scowling and smoking in her therapy session. In way too many words, she’s going to unleash the terrible tale of her “betrayal” and subsequent descent into insanity — only the tale isn’t all that terrible.

The first half of the movie plays out like a Lifetime original. A college-aged Melinda (played by Ajiona Alexus) meets young Robert (Antonio Madison) in the rain, and his smooth-talking ways (or “con man” persona, as she spitefully recasts) win her over: He helps her with homework and attends her mother’s funeral. They’re both optimistic about the future. He’s a mechanical engineering major who dreams of inventing and selling a rechargeable battery. It’s literally the only thing he cares about.

Years pass and Robert (now played by Lyriq Bent opposite Henson’s Mel) and Melinda are married. He leeches off all the money left to her by her deceased mother. He manipulates Mel — even as she realizes it — into buying him everything he needs. She even goes so far as to remortgage her mother’s paid-for home, believing Robert’s battery will one day recharge their whole lives.

Robert’s single-minded determination finally pays off as his invention sparks corporate interest and a big offer. But it’s bad timing for Melinda, who, egged on by her sisters, has already decided the marriage is over due to suspected adultery. Whether Robert actually cheated is left unclear — he did earlier in their relationship, which resulted in her flipping over the RV he was living in (while he was inside) by repeatedly ramming it with her car — but Melinda is convinced when he soon gets engaged to the suspected “other woman.” Melinda sees the happy couple living the life of luxury she believes she’s owed, and something inside her cracks.

But while Melinda talks and talks, convinced that Robert deserves the torture she’s cooking up for him, you might be thinking: Huh? This isn’t Fatal Attraction. You don’t get to boil a bunny just because a life partner turns out to be a disappointing investment.

And so only then do we get to see Henson be crazy — like, literally, ax-wielding crazy. But while mildly entertaining, it doesn’t seem proportional to or likely of her depiction of Robert’s behavior based on the movie’s signposting. What’s more, Melinda’s unraveling (if we can call it that — it happens so abruptly) generates almost no suspense, so it’s difficult to feel invested in her trauma, let alone convinced to take her side. The psychology behind her actions, which could’ve given this movie a grounded and fascinating storyline about mental health and relationships, isn’t explored. Rather, the film seems to be saying: Yeah, this lady is craaaazy for no real reason. Isn’t it sad? 

However, we can safely say this flick will have a legacy of sorts: Thousands of people will likely Google and learn the definition of “acrimony.” It’s just a shame the film’s narrative couldn’t define it well enough on its own.

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