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The Fighting Temptations

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Fighting Temptations

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: September 2003
Genres: Comedy, Music

*Also starring: Mike Epps, Faith Evans, Steve Harvey, Wilbur Fitzgerald, Lourdes Benedicto, Melba Moore, Ann Nesby, Chloe Bailey, Nigel Washington, Richie Dye

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Look at the recent immigration history of the United States and you'll find that a funny thing has happened on the way to the money. While the moving of people from the south to the north after 1945 constituted perhaps the largest push of U.S. citizens ever from one section to the other, during the last 15 or 20 years the American north has experienced a net loss of people. Some, retirees largely, have left the frosty New England states for the Sun Belt of Texas, Florida and Arizona. Among them are many Puerto Rican-Americans have gone back to their home island when their working careers ended and tens of thousands, maybe millions, of African-Americans living up north returned to the southern states whence they came. While some in the audience for "The Fighting Temptations" may not be aware of this historical momentum, they will most certainly be thinking nostalgically about their childhoods in the sunny south and, if they had never left the north could actually be tempted to consider a southward migration some time in the future.

Why so? I'm guessing that by the way director Jonathan Lynn manipulates his (willing) audience using a screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson, lots of folks will leave the theater wondering why they're staying in an areas of the country that are cold not only in terms of Fahrenheit or Celsius but frosty as well in interpersonal relationships. The southerners of "The Fighting Temptations" with one exception (though she comes around predictably enough) are all jes-folks while the New Yorkers are portrayed as money-hungry people in the advertising game out to lie, cheat and sway their targeted audience into buying their product. "We're going to make a lot of money," says one cigar-smoking exec in the Madison Avenue firm. Not "We're going to do good by the people who buy our drink."

"The Fighting Temptations" takes one such manipulating executive, Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a man who lied to his employer about the schools from which he graduated (Andover Prep, then Yale), lies to his date about his upbringing (in Monte Carlo which turns out to be not entirely false), and tailors what his boss thinks are great ideas to make potential buyers think they're duds unless they consume the agency's products. By the end of the picture, Darrin is a genuine human being who shedsthe confines of suit and tie, embraces the warm people of his Montecarlo, Georgia home, and even wins the girl he once romanced when he was five or six years old.

If you're looking for surprises, this is not your picture. If you don't mind predictability, you like listening to foot-stomping gospel music (with a dab or two of rap), if you don't mind watching Cuba Gooding mugging fiercely for the camera whenever Lynn turns his lens on the energetic comedian, and if you can delight in the charms of the beautiful and talented singer Beyonce Knowles, get your tickets now.

"The Fighting Temptations" finds successful hotshot ad exec Darrin Hill in receipt of a letter urging him to come to his Aunt Sally's funeral, after which he discovers that Sally left him $150,000 provided that he gets a church choir into the annual Gospel Explosion Competition in Columbus, Georgia. As he looks about the landscape, he finds only untalented would-be singers, but he also locates people more than folksy in Georgia, particularly Steve Harvey as the local DJ who smokes, eats and drinks as he drawls on about the latest events in Montecarlo ("traffic report: there's no traffic"); Paulina (LaTanya Richardson) as the headstrong church treasurer who wants Darrin out of her town; Lucius (Mike Epps), who drives Darrin from the train station with a car whose door opens when it feels like; and best of all Lilly (Beyonce Knowles), whom he barely recognizes as the girl he proposed to when she was four years old. How he builds up his choir to a winning team (using jump-suited characters from the local jail) forms the crux of the film.

The plot wheels turn, creaky at times, to the inevitable conclusion; in fact we in the audience are ahead of director Lynn almost every step of the way. But oh, the music. I was first introduced to gospel at New York's Bitter End caf when I was seventeen, and from the first beat of the tambourine I was hooked on music so exciting, so inspiring from both a religious and musical point of view that only Mel Gibson could call gospel a distraction from the true church. The songs are both slow and melodious like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and at room-busting volume, a mighty wind that gives Beyonce Knowles her well- deserved first major role in the movies and shows us city slickers how much we're missing out of life here in the urban jungle that's New York.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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