The poster for The Fighting Temptations urges the viewer: "Don't Fight the Feeling." But it doesn't clarify what feeling. The feeling that Cuba Gooding Jr.'s career is in a death spiral? The feeling that I might as well have stayed home and rented Sister Act 2? For a movie with such a thin plot, it's actually very confusing.
The Fighting Temptations was originally conceived as a project for P. Diddy. But somehow they ended up with Cuba instead. To Gooding's credit, he keeps the eye-bugging to a minimum; but he's still completely wrong for this role as con man Darren Hill. This is the worst casting job since Christina Ricci in That Darn Cat.
Darren Hill is a junior executive at a New York advertising agency who has lied and faked his way to the top. Burdened by debt, Darren is banking on a big promotion to pull him out of the hole. After a successful meeting with a new client, things are looking up for Darren; but the new client does some research and discovers Darren is a fraud. Jobless and trailed by creditors, Darren heads back to his tiny hometown of Montecarlo, Georgia for his Aunt Sally's funeral.
Lucky for Darren, dear Aunt Sally has willed him $150,000 in stock holdings. But there's a catch. In order to receive the stock certificates, Darren has to take over the church choir and win the top prize at the annual Gospel Explosion. Of course, the choir is a wreck and the one person who can lead them to victory can't/ won't join. That person? Beyonce Knowles...I mean "Lilly."
Surprisingly, Beyonce doesn't dominate the film. After a somewhat awkward rendition of Peggy Lee's "Fever," where Ms. Knowles gropes herself, Beyonce incorporates herself well with the rest of the cast. She's still only a music-video caliber actress, but at least she doesn't try to upstage anyone.
Gooding is even less believable as a choir director than he is a con man. It's almost tragic to watch him grin like a fool and wave his arms around as though saying, "Hey guys! I can act! I really can! Look at me go!" ...and then he does a back flip.
The rest of the cast is a mishmash of 2nd tier pop-music talent like T-Bone and Montell Jordan mixed with just-about-has-beens like Rue McClanahan and Cuba Gooding Jr. Steve Harvey brings a few laughs as the small-town DJ, but his scenes are far too brief.
The soundtrack is the only thing that saves The Fighting Temptations from being a completely miserable experience. Though the music never really tops the opening performance by the Reverend Shirley Caesar, there are plenty of catchy, well-written songs throughout the film. Under the supervision of perennial hit-makers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and including performances by Mary Mary, The O'Jays and The Blind Boys of Alabama, the soundtrack to The Fighting Temptations is actually pretty good. If you don't see the film, and you like R&B/ Gospel, check out the film's official website (fightingtemptations.com) to hear a sample of the music.
If it weren't for an excellent soundtrack backed by some legitimate musical talent, this film might as well have gone straight-to-VH1. It is packed with so much smarminess and plot-turns-for-the-sake-of-plot-turns the (former television) writers should be ashamed of themselves. Fight the Feeling. Don't spend any of your hard-earned money on this movie unless it's to purchase the soundtrack.
Oh yeah, and another thing. As the old theatre adage goes about the gun: Don't' put Rue McClanahan in a gospel choir in Act One if you're not going to let her have a solo in Act Three.
-Megan A. Denny