This new legal thriller is Netflix's No. 1 movie — but critics and audiences loathe it

Kelly Rowland in Mea Culpa
(Image credit: Netflix)

Tyler Perry's latest movie doesn't star Madea, but it's made the internet a hilariously divisive place all of a sudden.

"Mea Culpa" debuted on Netflix on Feb. 23 and has since been racking up negative critic and audience reviews. It seems most viewers can't stand the legal thriller, but somehow the film remains at the top of Netflix's charts. 

The film follows criminal defense attorney Mea Harper (Kelly Rowland) after she agrees to represent a rather seductive client accused of murdering his girlfriend. It isn't quite an open-and-shut case as Harper works to unravel the truth. Soon, she finds herself involved with more than just the client's legal dealings — and in his bed. 

Starring Trevante Rhodes alongside Rowland, the film also features Nick Sagar, Sean Sagar, Shannon Thornton, and RonReaco Lee. Perry wrote, directed, and produced the flick, which is currently sitting at a 15% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes with a slightly more forgiving 37% audience score.

Reviewers have been less than kind, with Movie Nation's Roger Moore labeling the flick an "eye-roller," with's Brian Orndorf reporting that the writing "feels like a first draft that was hastily brought to the screen."

Even the few positive reviews are hesitant to heap any typical amount of praise on the movie, like The New York Times's Lisa Kennedy, who questioned whether directors should aim for creating "guilty pleasures" before naming 'Mea Culpa' a "willfully steamy thriller."

A sampling of 250 viewers proved more understanding and tolerant of the movie's alleged shortcomings, though most viewers complained of "confusing" plot twists and "stereotypical" characters. 

So how does a movie that's nearly universally panned shoot to the top of Netflix's charts? Easy — word of mouth. Since "Mea Culpa" made its debut just days earlier, it's been the subject of such harsh criticism that it nearly invites you to see whether it's as bad as everyone says it is. 

That, combined with the star power of fan-favorites like ex-Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland, makes a powerful invitation to come and see for yourself. And if we're being honest, Perry himself has long been a draw for many viewers to at least investigate whether or not his latest project is worth watching – whether it actually has been historically is beside the point. 

Despite the polarizing response to "Mea Culpa," however, Perry has not reacted to the criticism nor the slight praise the movie has received. He did open up ahead of its release, however, to shed some light on where it came from out of his burgeoning brain. 

"This idea came to me because I love all of those older thrillers from the ’80s and ’90s," Perry told Tudum about the project. "It was fun to explore the best and worst of humanity through the genre of an exotic thriller."

Speaking of exotic, there's also plenty of steamy sexual content throughout the movie. As we're all aware, sex sells. And sex gets people to watch movies that may otherwise be lacking in quality. Is that what happened here? It's hard to say, but it's not out of the realm of possibility to imagine that type of content certainly played some sort of role. 

Whether or not the film is definitively good or bad, of course, is all in the eye of the beholder. For now, it looks like enough folks are at least morbidly curious enough to see what "Mea Culpa" has in order for them. If you're also looking to draw your own judgment about the drama, it's now available to stream on Netflix

More From Tom's Guide

Brittany Vincent

Brittany Vincent has been covering video games and tech for over 13 years for publications including Tom's Guide, MTV, Rolling Stone, CNN, Popular Science, Playboy, IGN, GamesRadar, Polygon, Kotaku, Maxim, and more. She's also appeared as a panelist at video game conventions like PAX East and PAX West and has coordinated social media for companies like CNET. When she's not writing or gaming, she's looking for the next great visual novel in the vein of Saya no Uta. You can follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake.