The Fighting Temptations: Jim Sheldon
Scott Brown
September 18, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Fighting Temptations

Current Status
In Season
123 minutes
Wide Release Date
Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Mike Epps, Faith Evans, Steve Harvey, Rue McClanahan, Melba Moore, Wendell Pierce, LaTanya Richardson, Angie Stone
Jonathan Lynn
Paramount Pictures
Elizabeth Hunter, Saladin Patterson
musical, Comedy

We gave it a B+

It’s rare to find a film set in the South that delights in, yet never demeans, its country tropes. It’s even more rare to find a musical that successfully blends sincerity with showmanship. And it’s extraordinarily rare to find a movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr., he of ”Snow Dogs” and ”Boat Trip” infamy, that’s actually good.

And that makes The Fighting Temptations a small miracle. Full-throated and good-hearted, yet tart and sharp in all the right places, this R&B/gospel-fueled fairy tale (exuberantly directed by Jonathan Lynn from a nimble script by Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson) can be forgiven its many contrivances for the same reason that Velma Kelly could credibly stage a dance number in a women’s prison: Nobody cares, as long as toes are tapping.

Gooding’s characteristically hyperactive histrionics actually take on a kind of refinement here, as he plays a Gatsby-esque New York adman named Darrin Fox, who’s just been fired for fabricating his résumé: Far from being a Yale man raised in Monte Carlo, Fox is a high school dropout raised in nightclubs by his mother, an R&B warbler who was kicked out of the Montecarlo, Ga., Baptist choir for singing the devil’s music.

Now a beneficent aunt’s death — and her dying wish that the prodigal Fox lead the choir — draws the fast-talking player back to Montecarlo, where, predictably, there’s both a musical contest and a lady’s heart to be won (the latter belonging to frequent showstopper Beyoncé Knowles). But the movie is really an ensemble piece: Mike Epps, Steve Harvey, Rev. Shirley Caesar, rapper T-Bone, and others turn in a rat-a-tat variety show of heights-hitting performances. ”Temptations” makes shameless use of tried-and-true elements — but it’s hardly the same old song.

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