The Fighting Temptations

Once upon a time, Cuba Gooding, Jr. won an Academy Award for Jerry Maguire, where he played on over-the-top athlete. He was boisterous, energetic, and really fun to watch. But since then, he's played over-the-top roles in nearly every movie he's chosen. However every subsequent film has not been of the same caliber. He's consistently chosen lesser scripts, and made himself a joke. The same goes here in The Fighting Temptations, a predictable story that casts him as Darrin Hill, an advertising executive in the big city. The now standard Gooding (Snow Dogs, Boat Trip) plot is to have him start off as a guy with a flaw, take him out of his element, and then have his element change him for the better. Instead of going to Alaska or going on a gay cruise, he's now in the Deep South. The film's biggest flaw is that thematically, it is a clone of a million other films. Plotwise, The Fighting Temptations is a lesser version of Steve Martin's Leap of Faith. What saves it is some truly heavenly gospel music.

Hill returns to Montecarlo to attend the funeral of his beloved aunt. The main reason he is going back is because he is basically out of a job, and is getting an inheritance. The huge catch is that the only way he will get the inheritance is by taking the local church gospel choir and making it a success. Thus, the fish is again out of water, and everything that Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson write is pure formula. Hunter and Patterson are sitcom writers, and The Fighting Temptations feels like an extended television show. Darrin knows nothing about leading a choir, and Paulina Pritchett (LaTanya Richardson, US Marshals, Secrets) is there to criticize his every move. She is the prude of the group, bitter because she feels she should be in charge, and hated by everybody. Darrin meets his childhood friend Lilly (Beyonce Knowles, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Carmen: A Hip Hopera), who is now a hot young woman, castigated from the church because Pritchett thinks she sings devil music (i.e. not gospel).

Darrin's primary purpose for leading the choir is to get his inheritance of $150,000. He rounds up everybody he feels is appropriate, and Pritchett gets angrier. He is also trying to win his job back. Director Jonathan Lynn (The Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error) doesn't even try to make this original, he just goes with the flow, and again, everybody knows that the gentle, small town charm will eventually win over Darrin just as they will eventually discover his scheme. Aside from Gooding, Beyonce is the other big presence in the film. Unlike her role in Goldmember, she has no sense of zest here. She has a great voice, but her character has no personality, and Beyonce as an actress doesn't make any sort of lasting impression.

Most of the rest of the cast works, because Lynn made the right choice and cast actual gospel singers. There is wonderful music sung by the Rev. Shirley Caesar, Faith Evans, Melba Moore, The O'Jays, Montell Jordan, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. Part of it is just Lynn cheating, since he has everybody appear at the big competition at the end. The Fighting Temptations only comes to life when the choir is singing. When the singing stops, Gooding bounces around the screen like an idiot, and the story moves predictably. It's only a matter of time before he sees the light and everything becomes peachy-keen, and he learns what everybody else knew at the beginning of the movie, that small towns can sometimes better.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 3 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

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