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"The Fighting Temptations" - Movie Review

"The Fighting Temptations" - Movie Review

Genre:  Comedy, musical

Rating:  PG-13 (for some sexual references)

Release Date:  September 19, 2003

Actors:  Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps, Steve Harvey, Rue McClanahan, Wendell Pierce, LaTanya Richardson, Dave Sheridan, Faith Evans, Angie Stone, Melba Moore, Montell Jordan, Zane, Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin

Director:  Jonathan Lynn

Special Notes:  I recently interviewed Cuba and Beyoncé. Both told me that they were Christians and believe God has a hand on their lives. Cuba said his little boys constantly remind him that “God is in control.” When I asked Beyoncé  what she would want young girls to see when they see her sexy image on TV, she told me that “my message for young girls is that it's what's on your inside that counts, that they need to get a vision or dream about themselves and go for it. That’s more important than what is on the outside.” Director Jonathan Lynn (“The Whole Nine Yards”, “Nuns on the Run”) told me that, “God has a sense of humor” and that’s why it’s good to laugh at ourselves in comedies like this one."

Plot:  When Darrin (Gooding Jr.) is summoned to his hometown of Monte Carlo, Georgia for his Aunt Sally’s funeral, he discovers that she has left him an inheritance of $150,000 in her will. There's only one catch: in order to get the money he has to fulfill her last wish. Darrin must create a gospel choir for the Beylah Baptist Church and lead it to success. Darrin needs the money to get him out of his financial woes, but is disheartened when he discovers that the local church choir is pitiful and sadly lacking in members and talent. Ready to give up, Darrin searches frantically for the best voices in town and manages to get a few hopefuls in the county jail (T-Bone, Montell Jordan), the barbershop (The O’Jays) and perhaps the most obvious place to find a singer, the local nightclub. Lilly (Knowles) is not only a beautiful singer with a phenomenal voice, but she’s a single mom looking for a better life for her son and for some acceptance from the catty women in her church community. As the group prepares for the competition at the annual "Gospel Explosion," personal differences erupt, problems are dealt with and for the first time Darrin begins to change his tune and see life, love and his old hometown a little differently.

Good:  Ready for a movie that’ll make you want to sing along and stand up and clap? This is as close as you’re ever gonna get to having a gospel/hip-hop/R&B church service in a movie theater! Once you hear some of the old favorites (“Heaven Knows”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) mixed with a few new ones (“Fighting Temptation”, “The Stone”), your body is going to want to stand up and dance, even if your mind says not to – especially when you hear T-Bone’s unbelievable rap song (“To Da River”) and Beyoncé's numerous numbers (even P.Diddy sings with her). This movie is a virtual showcase for the “who’s who” of gospel music, so plan on getting the soundtrack for more cool songs and artists. The focus of the story is on a small Georgia town and the Baptist church (that’s predominantly black), which come together to enter the contest. The scenes at the funeral and a few church services use the traditions, mannerisms and humor of the black culture to create some hilarious and entertaining moments. Gooding Jr. brings vulnerability, repentance and a man with heart to a character who at first seems shallow and self-absorbed. Beyoncé shines in a role she was born to play, and boy can she sing! I like the fact that at first the church is bickering amongst themselves, but soon they learn to come together and be a strong community. The music is a significant part of the storytelling, but the drama of the story is about people of diverse opinions, ages and backgrounds coming together for a cause. I guarantee you’ll have a praiseworthy, toe-tappin’ good time! 

Bad:  The story is a little weak and drags a bit at first, but then it starts to pick up as the music is introduced, and by the end it redeems itself with a powerful musical message. A couple of crude words are used along with humorous dialogue (at the Aunt’s funeral and a couple of church services) that gently pokes fun at situational things in the black culture. In one diatribe between Darrin and Lucius (Epps), Lucius points out his “keen observations” on black women’s rear ends and how differently each one looks, depending on where they live (the director let Epps ad-lib the lines, and it worked so well he kept it in). While we're hearing that, we're seeing different women's back sides (clothed) in various shapes and sizes. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why did they need to put that dialogue in a movie about a Gospel choir?” The truth is, Hollywood doesn't have to, and we know that. However, to get a PG-13 rating (and thereby attract an adult audience rather than just kids), the producers and director knew there had to be a few “mature” elements in the story to get an MPAA PG-13 rating. 

Bottom Line:  Parents this is a fun, feel-good movie suitable for your pre-teens and teenagers, especially if they like Beyoncé  or T-Bone. "Fight the temptation" to judge this movie by the mildly crude language and weak script at the beginning. Once the music kicks in, it will redeem anything negative about this movie and by the time the credits roll you’ll only remember the positive as you dance up the aisle with a big smile on your face. You know the Bible talks about the “spirit of praise” and “worshiping with song”. Even though not all of the songs are spiritual in this movie, by the time you get to the competition and the credits roll, there’s an anointing on that music that I’m convinced is what audiences will feel when leaving the theater. In fact, Cuba and Lynn both mentioned to me that on the day of filming the contest, there was a spirit of God all over the set. As the different artists would sit around and sing old gospel hymns and sing praise songs about God in between takes, the stronger they felt God. Wow.