Tyler Perry creates his own movie universe. With films such as

Diary of a Mad Black Woman


Daddy's Little Girls

, his earnest parables wed uplift-of-the-downtrodden narratives with Harlequin Romance storytelling.

If Perry were working in Germany or Spain and his pictures arrived here subtitled, he would be a critical darling, heralded as the next Fassbinder or Almódovar. Instead, he works in Atlanta and is an audience darling, maker of reliable crowd-pleasers in which greed is punished, virtue rewarded and really good-looking people kiss.

In Daddy's Little Girls, the good-lookers are Monty (Idris Elba), a humble, cash-strapped mechanic and single father of three, and Julia (Gabrielle Union), a snooty attorney. When Monty's mother-in-law passes, he takes the girls to live with him in his apartment despite the protests of their drug-dealing mom, Jennifer (Tasha Smith).

To make extra cash, Monty moonlights as a limo driver, where he meets Julia. As is the ironclad rule in movie romances, they can't abide each other. He's honky-tonk, she's hoity-toity. But when he gets involved in a custody battle, Julia gets involved.

Perry's weakness as a storyteller is that the flaws of his characters might as well be stamped on their foreheads. Monty's is shame. Julia's is pride. Jennifer's is greed. For the one audience member who might fail to recognize what these figures represent, Perry provides them with mottos. Monty's is: "Don't lose faith." Jennifer's is "Don't get caught."

Happily, Perry's strength as a filmmaker is that he genuinely loves his actors, and they love him back. What his movies lack in exposition they make up for in performances. Elba, the British performer best known for his TV work on The Wire, smolders as the hardworking, misunderstood Monty. And Gabrielle Union, the cutie of Bring It On and Deliver Us From Eva, visibly melts as ice princess Julia. (No, Perry does not appear here as his alter ego Madea.)

Implausible? Yes. Predictable? Yes. Entertaining? You bet.

Daddy's Little Girls **1/2 (out of four stars)

Produced by Reuben Cannon and Tyler Perry, written and directed by Perry, photography by Toyomichi Kurita, distributed by Lionsgate.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 mins.

Monty. . . Idris Elba

Julia. . . Gabrielle Union

Willie. . . Louis Gossett, Jr.

Maya. . . Malinda Williams

Parent's guide: PG-13 (drug and sexual content, violence, profanity)

Playing at: area theatersEndText

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.