Movie: I'm not a particularly religious person, thinking superstitions are best left to those who need the false comfort they provide. As such a person, I generally don't enjoy gospel music, disliking the message too much to fully appreciate the musical talent of those who sing it. I'm not a big fan of movies that are formula driven, designed by committee, hack pieces either yet I found a few shining moments in a little DVD I saw today, The Fighting Temptations.
The movie centered on a conman-turned advertising executive, Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who lies and cheats his way through life until it catches up to him and he goes from being a rising star to an unemployed loser in record time when caught. As perfect as his talents are in his chosen field, he broke the 11th Commandment; Thou shalt not get caught, and ends up dodging his creditors as they attempt to repossess his many material treasures. Darrin's luck gets worse when he is served with legal papers concerning his last relative, a beloved aunt, who died back in his hometown in Georgia. He takes a train there and finds out that he has inherited $150,000 in stock, all he has to do is form a choir, lead it to a big gospel competition, and win. How tough could that be for him?
Sadly, it proves to be particularly tough since the woman who drove he and his mother out of town had designs on taking over the choir, the choir is made up of a handful of losers with little talent, and the competition is but weeks away. Darrin finds hope when he convinces a beautiful young jazz singer, Lilly (Beyonce Knowles), to front the choir, soon remembering her as his boyhood girlfriend. The rest of the choir is made up of convicts, rappers, and a host of wacky townspeople that come together and give it their best shot.
Okay, the story itself was old long before Sister Act "borrowed" so many elements from previous movies and if the common themes involved (overcoming odds, a competition, blah blah blah) don't bother you, the acting might. Gooding was miscast here and must be having serious personal problems given the lack of quality from his last batch of movies. I liked him in Jerry Maguire, Boyz N The Hood and As Good As It Gets, as well as a half dozen other movies but he really hit a low point here. Much has been made of the young Ms. Knowles' lack of acting ability here but, to be frank, it shined like a burning star compared to Gooding and her role in the movie was centered on her musical abilities (significant abilities at that) so forget that naysayers out there who compare her to Britney Spears or Madonna (neither of them come close in terms of screen presence or acting ability).
The real star of the movie is the music. Keeping in mind my general dislike for this genre of music, I really enjoyed it more each time I listened to it. I heartily recommend the CD but also feel the movie made effective use of the visual aspects to increase my pleasure here. Director Jonathan Lynn is known for his many flops, including the Ferris Bueller television series, and movies like Sgt. Bilko, Nuns On The Run and Trial And Error as much as his sole claim to fame, My Cousin Vinny. I think if he had focused less on the romance between Gooding and Knowles, a couple with absolutely zero chemistry, and kept the movie focused on the choir competition, he might have been able to pull it off.
I'm going to rate the movie as a Rent It, not for the bad acting, the weak story, and all the other flaws but for the great music alone. It was infectious and had some solid chops, powered by some fine vocalists. Ultimately, the music was worth checking out and there was certainly a lot of it to enjoy so check out this one if you appreciate sound over substance. As a side note, Steve Harvey was a hoot in his tiny role (I wish he had more to do here) as a disc jockey and fans will want to see this for him alone.
Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 ratio color. In the daylight scenes, the movie looked good with accurate colors and little grain, if a bit of softness in the focus at times. Mosquito noise and occasional artifacts plagued some of the night scenes but the fleshtones were decent. Overall, it wasn't up to the standards set by recent big budget movies but it was okay for what amounts to a date film.
Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track in English, a 2.0 Dolby Digital English track and a 2.0 Dolby Digital French track, all with optional English subtitles. The 5.1 track was superior and during the musical portions of the film, it really shined with plenty of detail and clarity. The vocals were a bit understated and this imbalance made me think the whole movie was designed for the music with the rest of it tacked on at the last moment.
Extras: The best extra, by far, was a set of extended musical numbers that totaled a bit over a half an hour in length. While they looked somewhat unpolished, they added some real value with good spatial placement of the voices and instruments. The next best extra was a set of deleted/extended scenes, some of which explained missing plot details. While it was easy to see why they were cut, I'd have added at least thirty more minutes of cuts to make the movie tighter, and better, yet it was interesting to watch them once. The last extra was a set of trailers, including one for the movie itself.
Final Thoughts: The story was flawed and the technical aspects less than swell but fans of music, especially gospel music, will have a lot to appreciate here. Try it as a rental first since it was worth watching but only fans of Beyonce Knowles will want it as a keeper.