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The Fighting Temptations

Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps, Steve Harvey, LaTanya Richardson, T-Bone. (2003, PG-13, 123 min.)

REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 19, 2003

The Fighting Temptations

Can someone dial down Cuba Gooding Jr. a few notches? He’s so hyperactive during this MTV Films production – which is comedically indistinguishable from Sister Act, but with more marketable music – that his Vegas-showgirl drag act in the dreadful Boat Trip looks like Bressonian minimalism by contrast. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; when the script has him breakdance and do back flips, he does quite well. But pair him with co-star Knowles in a tender love scene, and he can’t seem to turn off the head pops and mugging. As ruthless Manhattan junior ad exec Darrin, Gooding pulls out the broad cigar-chomping, suspender-popping mannerisms. Darrin’s executive star rises when he pitches a remarkable new idea – We’ll market malt liquor to African-Americans! – but he he’s a lying reprobate with a fake Yale degree. In need of a lesson, Darrin heads home to his aunt’s funeral in Montecarlo, Georgia, where the town busybody (Richardson) keeps everyone in line, and a sign at the train station promises "taxi and chicken." A wacky wrinkle in Aunt Sally’s will requires Darrin to direct the local Baptist church choir, and comic hijinks ensue en route to the Big Competition: an American Idol-esque tryout montage, a drunk redneck organist named Scooter, and Rue McClanahan, who gets one good line. Concomitantly, Darrin falls for Lily (Knowles), a sultry single mom. And who wouldn’t? Knowles is the best thing about the movie – she’s sexy and down-to-earth, and she’s nobody’s fool. Her warm screen presence gives the movie some much-needed heart. For the silly farce that it is, Temptations has its moments, mainly in the form of Lucius (the scene-stealing Epps), Darrin’s playa foil, and Johnson (Montell Jordan), a squeaky-voiced felon brought in as a ringer. The supporting cast contains some nice surprises (Harvey as a DJ and parishioner Melba Moore). And, of course, the music is front-and-center. It’s hard to argue with the performances by gospel great Shirley Caesar and the Blind Boys of Alabama, but the rest of the musical numbers have a canned, overcooked quality. Producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have conceived them as hit singles foremost and moments of cinema secondarily – which may be a recommendation for the soundtrack rather than the film. The real problem is that director Lynn (The Whole Nine Yards) has a tiger by the tail in Gooding, and he’s not a strong enough helmer to blend him in with the ensemble.

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