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IN SHORT: average flick with hard gospel roots. [Rated PG-13 for some sexual references. 125 minutes]
What you're going to get out of The Fighting Temptations will depend a great deal about what you bring into it. Down home gospel music is not something we've ignored during our life -- there's a Baptist church across the street from us in New York and we defy anyone to sleep late on a Sunday morning when the wailing starts -- but it's not something we can't live without. Love the hard rockin' gospel. Don't care much for the traditional and that's the dividing line between the front and back halves of The Fighting Temptations. A simple 80 or 90 minute story runs to over two hours because the filmmakers have packed in some superstars of the gospel scene -- not to mention more than a few performances by the solo Destiny's Child star, Beyoncé Knowles. That means a helluva soundtrack. We don't know if that's enough to push The Fighting Temptations over the racial demographic border. We'll give the reason why it could a couple of 'graphs from now.
New York is a hard place to make a living. Costs are high and, in the hotshot world of advertising, image and aggression is everything. As we first meet junior exec Darrin Fox (Cuba Gooding Jr.), he's prepping to make his big move and help land his firm a big alcoholic beverage producer account. The deal? Sell malt liquor in the popular 40 oz bottle as an upscale beverage! Darrin, by the way, is an anomaly among young African-American professionals. Raised in Monte Carlo, the congressman's son was schooled at Andover Prep and Yale University. He is about as successful as a yuppie can get. With the liquor deal safely in his firm's pocket, all Darrin has to do is avoid the private detective who has been on his tail for the last few days.
The big problem is that Darrin, like all talented yuppie wannabees, has been lying through his pearly whites for years. It costs him his job and, as if hitting a man when he's down isn't enough, the private dick finds him and summons him back to Monte Carlo -- in the fine peach tree filled state of Georgia. Which is where he and his mother were run out of town by Paulina Pritchitt (LaTanya Richardson) the high-falutin' sister of the local Baptist Reverend (Wendell Pierce). Paulina objected to mom singing that " R&B sex music" Darrin has been summoned because his Aunt Sally has died and, as the only surviving relative, he gets a piece of the estate. A whopping $150,000 piece.
The only catch is that Darrin has to rebuild the Beulah Baptist Church choir, take it to the Gospel Explosion! contest in Columbus, and win. Darrin doesn't get the cash without the win. This will truly ticks off Paulina Pritchitt who keeps her nose in everyone's business and has been waiting for years to get her hands on the group. Darrin wouldn't mind turning over the baton, so to speak, since he knows nothing about music but he's up to his eyeballs in debt and needs green, fast.
When he hears the sorry state of the choir, the fast talker from New York has some heavy duty convincing to do, to get bodies in the singing pews. Metamorphosing into a "music producer," Darrin seeks out all the talent in the town, from the barber shop to the local honky tonk where a childhood never-was-a-girlfriend (Beyoncé) sings. She wants nothing to do with him but there is the lure of the big city music contract. Same deal for Lucius (Mike Epps), the town playa, which means he's broke and so's his car and so's his routine. And at every step, Paulina is there to waive the church's by-laws in his face and make his life miserable. All the events are commented upon by Miles (Steve Harvey), who runs the local radio station.
The Fighting Temptations is a stock story that does pack one good twist but what kicks the second half into overdrive for us is the addition of some white rapper named T-Bone to the mix. We can't understand a word he's saying. It's all energy.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Fighting Temptations, he would have paid . . .
We sat with a predominantly black audience, the target demo, and the reaction was fairly positive, but not enthusiastic. With names like Cuba and Beyoncé attached, there may be some crossover but we're far too old and tired to predict it.
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