Fighting Temptations

March 11th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Director; Jonathan Lynn

Starring; Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles.

Cuba, Cuba, Cuba. Where did you go wrong?

You blazed onto the scene in John Singleton’s Boyz N the Hood, then upstaged the world’s biggest movie star in Jerry Maguire and winning an Oscar for your energised performance as rising football star Rod Tidwell.

And then you rested on your laurels, using nothing but your goofy grin and frantic energy to unleash a slew of production line slush, culminating in Snow Dogs (a Disney cartoon, just using live action), Rat Race (a sloppy remake of the 1963 screwball comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World), and now this.

Maybe Gooding Jr’s simply forgotten how to act — or maybe his pinball-velocity demeanour just had everyone fooled. You’d expect an actor of his experience to run rings around a cast of novices and unknowns, but it’s hard to tell which is stronger, his hamminess or costar Beyonce Knowles’ discomfort when she’s not singing.

Add the sort of Hollywood script where some studio executive has checked the boxes marked ‘cute kid’, ‘beautiful heroine down on her luck’, ‘comic relief characters’ and ‘fallen hero who finds himself’ and clicked the ‘produce by-numbers romantic comedy script’ button, and it’s a wholly underwhelming experience.

On the upside, it’s got laughs, and plenty of them are authentic, even if predictable. And there’s the music. The Holy Roller, Gospel Choir style of the deep South is created and showcased to loving effect, and is also where the sole charisma can be found in the film.

The story follows a well-worn plot. Gooding Jr is an ad exec who has it all and thinks he’s happy. Called to his southern hometown to attend the funeral of his Aunt and the reading of her will, he discovers her dying wish was for him to direct the church choir and lead it to victory in the regional Gospel choir competition.

The ‘doesn’t want to be there before realising he belongs’ premise will be as familiar to moviegoers as cops and robbers, so don’t expect any surprises as he finds the people and choir worm their way into his heart, and he has to navigate the local church politics as well as him feelings for his childhood friend and single mother (Knowles).

With nothing else to offer, Fighting Temptations would have been as lame as any other fish out of water romantic comedy the big Hollywood studios continually foist on us and pretend they’re something different. The many and varied song and dance numbers almost make it a musical, and they’re as spirited and entertaining as watching a revival concert.

Throw in some hip hop courtesy of the younger choir members (and three prison inmate members — don’t ask) and you’ve got one of the most interesting soundtracks of the year if nothing else.

It’s just sad to see an actor who seemed to be on the cusp of great dramatic things for so long end up at the same point as any other Hollywood system name-for-hire that never pushes himself. And Beyonce, after looking pretty confident in her first big screen appearance (Austin Powers in Goldmember) looks as uncomfortable as an unwilling teenager in a high school drama class any time she’s not on stage with a microphone in her hand.

But having her as the hero’s love interest made good marketing sense and will attract armies of 10-14 year old girls who’ll flock to cinemas to see their hero. As such, the scriptwriters and studio have been careful to leave out any language and overtly adult overtones, and we’re left with sugary-sweet and funny but harmless entertainment.

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