The Fighting Temptations

The Fighting Temptations

USA, 2003. Rated PG-13. 123 minutes.

Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps, Latanya Richardson, Steve Harvey, T-Bone, Wendell Pierce, Rue McClanahan, Melba Moore, Faith Hill, Ann Nesby
Writers: Elizabeth Hunter (screenplay & story), Salad K. Patterson (story)
Original Music: Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, James "Big Jim" Wright
Cinematography: Affonso Beato
Producers: David Gale, Loretha C. Jones, Benny Medina, Jeff Pollack
Director: Jonathan Lynn


Grade: B- Review by Frances Nicole Rogers

The Fighting Temptations is like an in-joke: a person who is not of the same cultural background as the characters in the film won't get the joke. To such a person The Fighting Temptations will be a congregation of clichés, but those who are of the southern, African-American Baptist community portrayed in this movie will see it as something more: an honest portrayal of a culture that's been poorly represented in the cinema.

I'm not referring to the African-American community in general; specifically, I speak of the southern African-American Baptist church, which has been relegated to energetic gospel choir cameos and absurd laughs. Granted, the smoldering charismatic (or "Spirit-filled") hijinks of the church can be ridiculous (in particular to those who don't fancy kinetic worship) and the church does have its fair share of hypocrites, yet something is loveable about this sometimes-bizarre culture. This lovability, coupled with the insanity, is what The Fighting Temptations captures, and is what makes The Fighting Temptations successful.
Gooding and Knowles
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles get close and sing in The Fighting Temptations

The film is obviously not free from the gospel tag: it is all about gospel and the importance of gospel (or, simply, good music) in the church. The title refers to the choir created by Darrin (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), a junior advertising executive who agrees to direct the choir of his home church in Montecarlo, Georgia, to success at a gospel competition in hopes that he'll gain a large inheritance from his late aunt. His motives are unemployment and debt, and that he cannot show his face in New York City without being thrown in jail. Upon returning home, Darrin pathologically lies to impress the lowly southern folk—including Lily (Beyoncé Knowles), a good singer with a bad reputation—that he's more successful than he is. Eventually, as in all feel-good films, the rag-tag choir and the down-in-the-dumps executive improve each other's well being.

The wonderful music is the centerpiece of the movie. With the exception of the gospel contest entry (which is in itself a fine song, but ill-suited for the scene), each song and number is exciting and fun. The best are the "spontaneous" jam sessions in a barber shop (sung by the O-Jays) and the post-practice session in which "Down By The Riverside" becomes a rap.

The performances, on the other hand, are not as appealing as the songs. Cuba Gooding, Jr., makes for a disappointing lead. He is stiff and uncomfortable, and while it works when his character is lying, it does not work when he's honest or comfortable with his environment. Knowles, in her second film, manages ably as Lily. She's most appealing while singing—not at all surprising. The other singers who have minor roles in this film (The O-Jays and Angie Stone, among others) don't have enough time to impress. Steve Harvey, as a small-town radio DJ, turns in the most memorable performance.

The Fighting Temptations isn't deep artistically or theologically. Its commentary on hypocrites, sin, and redemption is transparent, though certainly feel-good and theologically sound. The "...and they lived happily ever after" ending is bound to irk cynics, though these are the people who should abstain from the film if they are not able to leave their cynicism at the door. But if you can settle for light entertainment, and enjoy a good song regardless the message, The Fighting Temptations won't disappoint.

Review © October 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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