[Screen It]


(2003) (Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyoncé Knowles) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A big-city advertising executive takes over his childhood town's small choir and tries to get them ready for a big contest in order to earn his inheritance.
Darrin Fox (CUBA GOODING, JR.) is a New York City advertising executive who hasn't been back to his hometown of Monte Carlo, Georgia since he and his single mom were run out by prudes such as Paulina Pritchett (LaTANYA RICHARDSON).

Two events, however, send him back. One involves his perpetual lying that gets him fired. The other is word that his Aunt Sally (ANN NESBY) has passed away. Accordingly, he returns for the funeral where he meets Paulina's brother, Reverend Lewis (WENDELL PIERCE), local ladies man Lucius (MIKE EPPS), and the flamboyant deejay, Miles (STEVE HARVEY).

He also learns that his aunt listed his inheritance as $150,000 in stock. Yet, the stipulation is that he must take over the Beulah Baptist Church choir and get them ready for the Gospel Explosion competition in Columbus, GA to receive the money, much to his and Paulina's dismay.

Learning that he only has a ragtag group of singers, Darrin sets out to recruit his former childhood friend, Lilly (BEYONCÉ KNOWLES), to lead them. She's initially reluctant, but eventually agrees and they're soon signing up a number of other singers, even including prisoners Johnson (MONTELL JORDAN) and Briggs (T-BONE).

With just six weeks to go before the contest, Darrin works to get them into the competition just so that he can get his money, but soon finds himself falling for Lilly and his old hometown. With Paulina out to derail his efforts and the truth about Darrin threatening to be disclosed, he and his choir try to get ready for the contest.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Back in the glory days of Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," the running joke about the show's rate a record segment was that the "judges" would sum up most any new song by saying that it had a good beat and one could dance to it. Other than such momentary critics being unable to come up with any sort of constructive criticism, such fallback comments were used as a way of finding something good to say about the effort.

The same will likely apply to "The Fighting Temptations," a music-filled fish out of water comedy. While the choir-based music is more likely to inspire church-like movements rather than traditional dancing, it's quite entertaining in a toe-tapping sort of way.

It's also the best thing the film has to offer. As penned by Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson (both making their debut) and helmed by Jonathan Lynn ("The Whole Nine Yards," "My Cousin Vinny"), it comes off as a mediocre cross of elements resembling and/or lifted from "Doc Hollywood," "Sister Act," "The Commitments" and a host of other films. While viewers will likely recognize the material from those previous efforts, they probably won't think that the filmmakers have improved upon or stirred them into any sort of satisfying concoction.

Like "Doc Hollywood," the story involves a big city guy stuck in what he assumes is a backwoods, hick town (that just so happens to be his hometown). To get his inheritance from his aunt's estate, he must take over the choir (that's where the "Sister Act" part comes in), resulting in the obligatory montage of auditions, practicing and such (just like "The Commitments" and a slew of other "get the band together" films). The filmmakers fashion everything in sitcom-style trappings and there's never any doubt about how things will play out, especially if you've seen the previously mentioned Michael J. Fox film.

Starting off as more of a light drama and then segueing into a comedy - and an often goofy one at that - the film does offer some decent laughs now and then. There's some slight satire on the ad industry - in which the protagonist works - but not enough to make it as scathing or humorous as it might have been.

Overall, the plot is rather simple, straightforward and really just a skeleton upon which to hang all of the music and related numbers. In an offhand way, that's a good thing since such moments are the highlight of the film. Real-life performers such as The O'Jays, Faith Evans, T-Bone, Angie Stone, Melba Moore and others sing their way through various songs. They don't do so in the form of a traditional musical, but rather in various performances within the film, and some of them are infectiously entertaining.

Beyoncé Knowles ("Austin Powers in Goldmember") joins them and is rather good, both in song - including a sexy version of Peggy Lee's "Fever" - and playing the single mom who falls for her former childhood friend. He's played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. ("Boat Trip," "Snow Dogs") doing his normal, wide-eyed and exasperated comedy mugging that's dominated his comedies of late. Unfortunately, he's the weak link in the film, which is obviously a big problem since he's the star embodying the central character.

The likes of Mike Epps ("Friday After Next," "All About the Benjamins"), LaTanya Richardson ("U.S. Marshals," "Losing Isaiah"), Wendell Pierce ("Brown Sugar," Bulworth") and Steve Harvey (TV's "The Steve Harvey Show") are generally okay in their respective supporting roles. All of them, however, could have benefited from tighter and more imaginative writing.

The same holds true for the overall plot that's simply too close of a replica of other films, or parts thereof, to feel as fresh as it should. If not for the entertaining and enjoying musical numbers, this would be a flat, mundane and by the numbers comedy. "The Fighting Temptations" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed August 5, 2003 / Posted September 19, 2003

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