September 19, 2003 6:25am EST
Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr.) an advertising executive living in New York is totally bankrupt--both morally and financially. On the same day he gets fired from his job for embellishing his résumé Darrin finds out his aunt has died and he must travel back to his hometown in Georgia to attend her funeral. Turns out auntie left a small fortune for Darrin in her will but there's a catch: In order to collect the inheritance he must first lead the local church gospel choir to success at the annual Gospel Explosion--a national competition. But the choir which consists of a handful of older churchgoing folk is in shambles. Desperate for results Darrin draws potential members by opening the choir to just about anyone including prison inmates and atheists. Unfortunately the most talented singer in town is a jazz singer named Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles) who wants nothing to do with the church. Will Darrin be able to convince her to join the choir on a tune and join him on a date? Predictable from beginning to end this pic has one great thing going for it--the music. With gospel styles as diverse as traditional Southern to contemporary with a touch of hip-hop The Fighting Temptations will have you anxiously anticipating each musical number.
Gooding who last starred in the shipwreck Boat Trip misleadingly gets top billing in the comedy The Fighting Temptations. Sure the film revolves around his smarmy character Darrin but Gooding is outshined here by talented cast members that are either funnier or more musically inclined than he is. As Gooding's love interest Lilly Knowles who made her big-screen debut in last year's Austin Powers in Goldmember has found a perfect vehicle to show off both her multi-octave range and her developing acting skills. Unsurprisingly her musical numbers including her steamy nightclub rendition of "Fever " are much more memorable than her dialogue. But sandwiched between the sentimental scenes and rollicking musical numbers are two performances that really stand out. The first is Mike Epps as Lucius Monte Carlo's Caddy-driving welcoming committee. Epps (Friday After Next) livens up every scene he is in and the comedian consistently peppers his laugh-out-loud lines with subtle mispronunciations: "(Lilly's) in a spectrum of fine-ness; the energy is so potnent that she got a class-action suit against her right now for reckless endangerment." Adding to the comedy is Steve Harvey as the gossip-spreading local radio DJ. Like Epps Harvey's scenes many of which have him sitting behind a card table while reporting live from community events are refreshingly funny.
In a career that spans nearly four decades director Jonathan Lynn has amassed a diverse hit-or-miss filmography that includes the cross-dressing comedy Nuns on the Run the fish-out-of-water hit My Cousin Vinny the not-so-distinguished The Distinguished Gentleman and the screwball comedy The Whole Nine Yards. While The Fighting Temptations is not a hit for the director it is not exactly a miss either; it is middle of the road. With the church scenes for example Lynn really gives moviegoers a sense of the feverish rejuvenation that takes place during religious musical performances complete with patrons being 'slain in the Spirit' and falling to the ground. Regrettably the story by scribes Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson also falls to the floor like a fainting churchgoer; the musical numbers liven up the otherwise humdrum plot involving Darrin and Lilly. Assembled under the guidance of music-savvy producers such as Loretha Jones and Benny Medina the movie ends up being surprisingly entertaining. Some of the top scenes in the film include Knowles' a cappella solo "Swing Low Sweet Chariot " The O'Jays barbershop rendition of "Loves Me Like a Rock" and a moving Gospel Explosion performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama.