The Fighting Temptations (2003) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some language and sexual references
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, LaTanya Richardson, Wendell Pierce, Mike Epps, Steve Harvey, Melba Moore
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Screenplay: Elizabeth Hunter, Saladin K. Patterson
Review published September 23, 2003
There are only two reasons I'm giving The Fighting Temptations a marginal recommendation: great music and it manages to succeed in what it sets out to do, leave you feeling better coming out than going in. It's a feel-good movie, completely formulaic, with a shoddy script that hardly merits making a movie out of, but it's like a pair of comfortable shoes, worn and broken-in, but fitting quite well.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (Boat Trip, Rat Race) plays Darrin Hill, a New York City advertising junior exec that gets his shot as a partner due to his ideas that, while exploitative of the public, manages to increase the profit quite nicely. Just as soon as he thinks he has it made, he loses it all when it's discovered that he lied in order to get the job to begin with, and when his Aunt Sally dies, he ends up back in the same rural Southern town as when he started as a kid. In Sally's will, it was her wish that Darrin not only lead her church choir, but also take them to the competition known as the "Gospel Explosion," and if they win, he'll get his share of stocks worth about $150,000. Starting with not much talent, he'll have to rely on his quick mind and persuasive tongue to pull a workable choir together, and the difficulties are further compounded by a meddling "family friend" that wants Darrin's choir leader position for herself.
Let's get right to it. The Fighting Temptations is a bad film with great musical numbers, more concerned with celebrating inspirational music than hitting you with quality. It's blessed by a mostly likeable cast, especially Cuba Gooding Jr., who give his all in another energetic performance in a shallow role. Rounding out the cast are some good singers: Beyoncé Knowles (Goldmember, The Pink Panther), Melba Moore (Def by Temptation), the O'Jays, Montell Jordan, Angie Stone (The Hot Chick), Faith Evans (Turn It Up) to name but a few. If only the singing talent were balanced by acting talent, as the weak dialogue is only made worse by amateurish delivery during most of the scenes which forces the characters to talk to one another.
I have another minor quibble, one that's not necessarily related to the quality of the film, but still one that irked me throughout. For a film about a form of music that exalts God in such an impassioned way, it is curiously devoid of religious fervor. The main point of the story is not to do good works for their Lord or the community around them, but to win a contest, mostly for the money or personal reasons. As nice as the music sounds, it lacks the thunderous power that could have been delivered if it had been sung by those who have the conviction and determination of unwavering faith behind it.
Still, as flimsily put together as The Fighting Temptations may be, it has a charisma of its own, and delivers a hearty helping of good cheer, which seems to be all it really wants to do. It's the kind of movie that would rather have you pick up the soundtrack than the Bible, but it does maintain a respect for the music, and does a commendable job in presenting its finest qualities. If you have a liking for Gospel, are a Cuba Gooding, Jr. fan, or just like your movies unabashedly feel-good, The Fighting Temptations should be worth your while, provided you aren't expecting anything other than an easygoing two-hour excursion into typical Hollywood fare.
©2003 Vince Leo