Because the music is so heavenly, and everybody lives happily ever after, you have to forgive the sins of The Fighting Temptations.
The story — what there is of it — is that oh-so-familiar fill-in-the-blanks scenario: big-city jerk comes home to small town and finds true love and a few honest aspects of himself. In this case, the jerk is Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr., Snow Dogs), a resume-padding advertising account manager who will inherit $150,000 if he turns the gospel choir in his deceased aunt’s Georgia church into a winning ensemble. New-found best friend, speed-talker and player-wannabe Lucius (Mike Epps, Friday After Next) gives Darrin the impression he’s helping him reach his goal (Epps so sparkles the screen in every one of his scenes, he makes Gooding look as boring as white bread). Comic Steve Harvey does an outrageous turn as the local disc jockey/news reporter who charts the choir’s success between commercials for the town’s funeral home.
The choir is hopeless, so Darrin increases its vocal talent from the most unlikely locations, such as the nearby prison and the town’s only nightclub. Meanwhile, Paulina (Latanya Richardson, TV’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge), the nasty hypocrite who had forced Darrin’s own mother out of the church choir many years ago, obstructs his attempts at improving the group. Being a silly movie, there’s nary a scene in which Darrin does anything emotionally satisfying, such as give the harridan her just desserts.
But in the end, who really cares? Nobody’s going to come and see this movie with the hopes of experiencing a demonstration of the dramatist’s art (go see Matchstick Men for that). The Fighting Temptations is about the music. It’s an unapologetic vanity piece for Destiny’s Child lead singer Beyonce Knowles, who’s so gorgeous you don’t really mind wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of her lip gloss. Her version of Peggy Lee’s famous torch tune, Fever, could itself become a classic.
Although the movie is a story of gospel singing, it offers wonderful treats of other musical styles, including blues, R&B and rap. It was truly glorious to see such star acts as The Blind Boys of Alabama, the O’Jays, T-Bone, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and Melba Moore, the queen of four octaves, and my favorite Broadway star. Temptations is never going to be on anyone’s Ten Best Movies of the Year list, but it is fun, and you leave the theater wanting to go dancing. And that, brothers and sisters, is more than you can say about most of the movies so far this year.
– reviewed by Marci Miller