|Cuba Gooding Jr.'s fall from critical grace has been swift and seemingly permanent since his Best Supporting Oscar win in 1997 for his performance in Jerry Maguire. Though he made a critically favored turn in Men of Honor, his more usual fare has included such delights as Rat Race, Snow Dogs, and Boat Trip. For an actor who has displayed his grace in front of the camera more than once, it befuddles the mind as to why he would choose roles that allow none of the intelligence of the actor to be displayed. Fortunately for Gooding's career, The Fighting Temptations will not be a complete critical or box office flop, but it shouldn't garner too much excitement either.|
In what should have been billed as a musical, the most engaging minutes of Temptations involve the gospel numbers littered throughout the piece. And since Gooding doesn't actually sing in the numbers, he has to make due with the less than spectacular dialogue while Beyoncé Knowles and a very strange group of fellow gospel singers take the stage and provide the real entertainment. While Gooding plays his role as well as to be expected, given the quality of the material, seeing him take yet another sub-standard role in a film is disappointing. His best characters are the ones with fire and energy and intelligence, and while he does a fine job conducting his rag-tag gospel choir, his character is too bland.
Which might be a reflection of the piece overall. When the audience ends up spending their time waiting for the next musical number to appear rather than keeping their attention on the characters and where they're headed in the plot, it's easy to see that there's something wrong with the screenplay. It's not that the story or idea for the film is substandard. It’s the execution of it all. While the idea might have looked entertaining on paper, the predictable nature of the script and the lack of real emotion from the characters outside of the musical numbers points to a deficiency in the dialogue and plot.
One of the only things that would keep somebody from using their VCR to fast-forward through the non-musical scenes is the comedic efforts from the supporting cast. Playing a radio announcer whose entire operating budget seems to come from the revenue generated from funeral home advertisements, Steve Harvey plays "Miles Smoke," and has the best dialogue in the movie, much of which seems to have been ad-libbed or thought up on the day of filming. Lou Myers, of "A Different World" fame, plays "Homer T," the nearly certifiably insane parishioner whose heart beats solely for Jesus and who attempts to hog the spotlight are priceless. And Mickey Jones plays the most out-of-place-in-Black-Southern-Baptist-church character ever to have graced the screen. Looking more like an aged biker dude, Jones also has some of the best one-liners and quips in the film.
And these three supporting actors aren't the only entertaining folks in the film. The supporting and lesser-known musical acts that take the stage with Knowles and Gooding too often eclipse whatever non-musical dialogue in which the two engage. It can probably be considered ironic that the two names above the title on the movie poster are the two least effective members of the cast. While Knowles does make her mark when she sings, Gooding really doesn't have anything wonderful to recommend him. His performance is adequate, but certainly not worth a second (or perhaps even a first) notice. Temptations shouldn't be looked down upon as Gooding's worst theatrical choice though. Certainly Chill Factor could be dubbed thus.
The Fighting Temptations is a perfect example of a film with a few good moments that doesn't hold the test of time. That time being the number of minutes you have to spend waiting for the next interesting part to come on screen. Approximately half of this film is worth paying attention to, and the other half is where you should be jumping up for bathroom breaks and concession stand purchases. But seeing this film in the theater might be an experience best left to those who are real die-hard fans of its top-lining stars. Knowles shines on stage and Gooding makes an improved performance over his last outing in the rather badly done Boat Trip. If you're willing to overlook the long running time, there are a few valuable and entertaining scenes in The Fighting Temptations.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.