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Mea Culpa: Tyler Perry Guilty of Attempting 50 Shades of Art

Review: Mea Culpa, the Erotic Legal Thriller by Tyler Perry May Have Tried Too Hard to be a 50 Shades of Art

Someone who I really enjoy discussing movies with suggested that I watch Mea Culpa before we have a conversation about it. So against a flurry of bad reviews I’ve seen on my social media feed I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about with Tyler Perry’s latest film on Netflix.

There were of course a few dissenting voices who said that Mea Culpa is a good movie so the least I could do is give it the benefit of the doubt and then get to tell y’all what I think of it.
I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum but do consider yourself forewarned.


Tyler Perry is known for creating some great slapstick comedy, judging by the continued success of his Madea character, and he has at times also successfully covered some serious relationship issues in his romantic dramas.

Advertised as an ‘Erotic Legal Thriller’, Mea Culpa simply tries too hard to be too much of everything for everyone, except for trying to be a comedy; it most certainly is not a comedy.
Maybe it should’ve been one…

The Lead Characters

Criminal defence attorney Mea Harper played by Kelly Rowland takes on the murder case of artist Zyair Malloy while her marriage has hit a rocky patch. So it is a no-brainer that she would eventually fall for her cagy, sultry and seductive client. That is after all what the trailer tells us to expect.

Kelly Rowland isn’t too bad of an actress but then again, the role of Mea wasn’t written to be complex and nuanced in a way that would get her nominated for any major awards anytime soon. No matter how much she may have tried, the way Mea Culpa was written means she would never be convincing enough.


Trevante Rhodes who plays Zyair sadly seems as if he was selected mostly for his ability to look sexy, be sultry and act stoic. The character alternates his stoicism with spells of being a naive victim of circumstances and even of someone stealthily putting up an illusion of vulnerability.

Zyair most of the time seems to be unperturbed by the severity of his situation and getting laid is his highest priority. Speaking slow and measured, reminiscent of the rapper and actor 50-Cent, it seems like any hunky guy with somewhat decent acting skills could pull off the role. Perhaps he could have done better had his role been written better.

Misdirecting the Audience Isn’t Always Wise

This movie wastes a lot of time dabbling around in creating ideas for the viewer to try to figure out whether or not Zyair is guilty and whether there is a wider conspiracy, and by showing glimpses of the toxic Harper family dynamic. Then suddenly near the end the whole thing is revealed too fast and it’s not even remotely close to the story the movie was building. The clues we are given do not tie up to the conclusion of the movie.


The story starts off with weak plot building and slow or no real character development.
Kelly Rowland‘s lead character is more that of the frustrated wife who I suppose Tyler Perry wants us to have sympathy for when she ends up cheating, than that of a high-powered lawyer who is capable of building a decent defence for her client.

The character of the husband Kal played by Sean Sagar is so bland and meek that one does not know if he needs a smack to wake him up or if we should see him as deserving of being cheated on.

Trevante Rhodes as Zyair Malloy and Kelly Rowland as Mea Harper star in Mea Culpa

Marriage and Messy Family Dynamics

I was mistaken to think that the movie would touch on issues around the dynamics of marriage in terms of dealing with infidelity because that is also what it is sold as to the viewer.
The build up around the issues in their marriage only seems to be there to justify Mea’s cheating on her husband. One gets the impression that Tyler Perry purposely doesn’t want us to care that their marriage is falling apart and the ‘final plot twist’ that Kal is also involved in the conspiracy is just simply awkward. That could’ve worked better if they portrayed him as either an asshole or as mysteriously conniving right from the start.

Worst of all is that the role of the mother-in-law Azalia (Kerry O’Malley) seems forced in a way that reminds me of that clickbait online novels which start off with a guy who doesn’t yet know that he himself is super rich while he is married into a rich family. Like Mea’s mother-in-law, his wife’s mom treats him badly and you have to download an app to read the rest of it. Annoying yes.
Her dialogue is like that of the matriarch in one of those Latin American, Turkish and Indian soaps that are dubbed into English. Very annoying.


When the story suddenly unfolds towards the end and the motive for the family’s absurd plan is revealed, it is just disappointingly too far-fetched.
It may have been more plausible if Zyair got framed because of a vendetta in the art world involving a different party who throughout the story played a game of cat and mouse.
Without giving too much away, there is in fact a good measure of revenge built into the motive but it is sprung upon us very late and with absolutely no clues pointing to that possibility as the plot was building.

Eroticism Oversold

Of course some people will watch Mea Culpa because they just want to see the epic sex scenes, like as if the movie is some sort of a 50 Shades of Art…
Even that aspect of the movie is oversold.
There is no real believable sexual tension between Mea and Zyair. They just come across as two blundering fools, him permanently horny instead of being focussed on proving his innocence and her resisting his advances until she is finally presented with an excuse to have a steamy bonk with the hunk.


In terms of the name, this Netflix movie does not successfully allude to anyone’s sense of guilt or culpabiity as the name suggests.

For someone who is so stoic and confident and portrays the idea of him being an alpha male, Zyair suddenly takes a very uncharacteristic route. Why did the guy suddenly decide to take a plea bargain for a murder he did not commit?

Accepting the plea bargain can’t be out of a sense of guilt which he in any case did not portray, but more from an irrational sense of despair.
The only thing he is guilty of is using the same seduction techniques on the women he sleeps with.


As for Mea, the term Mea Culpa is really only a play on her name as she does not really portray any sense of guilt for cheating on her husband.
It is more a sense of shame that she fell for Zyair’s same modus operandi of how he seduced other women, and feeling bad that she ain’t so special after all.

The only really believable actor is Ronreaco Lee who plays Jimmy the private investigator and he does a great job with the minimal screen time his character gets.

WATCH Mea Culpa Official Trailer from Netflix

One important saving grace of the movie is that it has a really good soundtrack and I particularly enjoyed the Isaac Hayes rendition of Walk On By.

Missed Opportunity for a Comedy

This could have been a good movie if Perry didn’t try to make us believe it can be any one of many things and then near the end spring a different story on the viewer without even having left any good clues from the beginning.

The only one who should really be seen as guilty of anything is Tyler Perry for having duped so many people into watching a movie that isn’t worth the hype.

Tyler Perry is guilty of writing a comedy of errors while attempting 50 Shades of Art with Mea Culpa.

Maybe the absurd conspiracy and all the misdirection would have worked much better if Perry had actually set out using the same crime plot to create a dark comedy, with or without the sex scenes.

What do you think?

Written by Ryan Swano

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