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The Fighting Temptations

  The Fighting Temptations
The real reason Cuba Gooding Jr. agreed to star in "The Fighting Temptations."

© 2003, Paramount
All Rights Reserved

Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is an up-and-coming ad executive hoping that a malt liquor campaign targeted at African-Americans will be his ticket to success, and his chance to crawl out from under crippling debt. When his aunt dies, Darrin is summoned to the small town in Georgia where he grew up to hear the reading of the will. The aunt leaves the local church choir to Darrin, along with a chance at a cash prize of $150,000 from a national choir competition. Due to the unpleasantness of the former choir director, Darrin is forced to start from scratch, hoping to entice a local church outcast with a set of golden pipes (singer Beyonce Knowles from Destiny's Child) to lead the choir to victory.

"The Fighting Temptations" (IMDb listing) returns audiences to the theater of the southern Baptist church. A church where the Holy Spirit resides in, and frequently takes a ride in, parishioners by inspiring them to dance, or to stand up and shout "Amen!" Admittedly, this is great fun to watch. Such an outpouring of love and faith is rare to find on the silver screen, and "Temptations" has a large streak of respect for the church, if only for its undeniable energy. That being said, why does "Temptations" bother with such an excruciatingly routine script?

The screenplay for "Temptations" is a simple by-the-numbers story based around the musical numbers that audiences have come to see. I can see a certain logic in keeping things easy so as not to interfere with the main course of the film: the singing. But the "Temptations" script is the pits, displaying such clumsy screenplay construction and hackneyed ideas that it's a wonder why the film bothers at all. One could've easily abandoned the story and focused on the performances, and the film would've come out fine, or at the very least more pleasant than it is now. However, those decisions were not made, and the audience is left with a crushingly dull story about "self-discovery" and "accepting your roots".

It doesn't help the quality argument to have a 60-year-old Englishman with an uneasy comedic filmography ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Greedy") direct this unquestionably southern tale. Jonathan Lynn doesn't quite have the chops to make "Temptations" a complete film, instead grabbing at parts to make his whole. He's been down this southern road before, with the 1992 fish-out-of-water hit, "My Cousin Vinny," but that film was far broader with its gags, whereas "Temptations" wants to eventually touch the heart. Lynn is aided by the power of the church scenes and with the occasional, often oddball, musical number, but he fails to make the production connect into one consistent movie. This film is meant to be one of those gigantic audience-pleasing musical/comedies, like its dangerously close sibling, the Whoopi Goldberg comedy, "Sister Act." But must it be completely devoid of integrity to succeed? I just don't see the logic in lowballing the intelligence factor, then trying to cover it up with flashy song and dance numbers. It's worked before, sadly enough, and here's to hoping it stops with "Temptations."

Tearing up the summer charts this year with her solo work in music, Beyonce Knowles makes her long awaited motion picture follow-up to last summer's hit, "Austin Powers in Goldmember." Without the aid of Mike Myers and his writing, Knowles shows in "Temptations" that she may not have the chops as an actress just yet. Far more confident as part of the choir (of course!), Knowles doesn't sell her character's backstory hard enough, and is eventually forced into a romantic entanglement with Cuba Gooding that isn't the least bit welcomed. Comedians Mike Epps and Steve Harvey manage to push a little fun into the proceedings with their supporting roles. At least they can turn a joke or two, unlike poor Cuba Gooding, who is all bug-eyed reactions and sweat, continuing his quest for quickest Oscar-winner-to-Vegas-lounge-act curve I've seen in recent memory.

"Temptations" does come with an unusually high music pedigree, with appearances by The O'Jays, Faith Evans, Montell Jordan, Angie Stone, and the aforementioned Beyonce Knowles. As you can see, the picture has no problems with musicianship. "The Fighting Temptations" throws away the promise of gospel joy with a movie that should've stayed in the development process a while longer, so that this tale of spirit could match the joy of its song.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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