You may or may not believe that gospel music saves the soul of an out of work advertising executive, but you just might believe that it saves the movie in in “The Fighting Temptations,” and that might be enough to make you say “Amen.”
Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Darren, who goes home to a small Southern town for the first time in many years after his aunt’s death. She leaves him $150,000, provided that he can get her beloved church choir to win a competition.
Darren has spent his life staying far away from the place where his mother was thrown out of the church for singing music that wasn’t considered appropriate. Although he is still bitter and angry, he is also insecure, so unsure of himself that he fabricates a background he thinks makes him more acceptable. He is so eager to be successful that he does not hesitate to come up with a proposed ad campaign that would exploit small-town blacks in order to sell more malt liquor.
But his lies about his qualifications are exposed and he is fired. He owes a great deal of money. That $150,000 is one temptation he cannot resist, especially when he sees a singer named Lilly (Beyonce Knowles of Destiny’s Child) who could not just win the competition but make some of his other dreams come true as well.
There is nothing particularly fresh or distinctive about what happens next. Beyonce Knowles cannot act, but she has a nice presence and a beautiful smile. Cuba Gooding, Jr. can act, but based on the evidence of this movie and several before it, he is chosing not to for the time being. There is some very broad attempted humor, as when they have to bring in a high-voiced convict in chains to sing in the choir. But that music is just plain glorious, especially when Knowles, the O Jays, Melba Moore, Faith Evans, and real-life gospel star Shirley Caesar raise up their voices.
Parents should know that one character is an unwed mother who is shunned by the church. There are some sexual references, including a man who brags about his conquests and asks children if they know he is their daddy and a crude reference to Mary Magdalene. One of the church leaders is exposed as a hypocrite who lied about her husband leaving her. Darren smokes expensive cigars and several characters drink, one to excess in a manner that is intended to be humorous.
Families who see this movie should talk about whether the church should have refused to include Darren’s mother and Lilly. What do you think of the admonition to “beware of brief delight and lasting shame?” What is the best way to help people who have made mistakes? Do you agree that gospel music gives people comfort? Is that its purpose?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Sister Act.