U.S. Release Date: September 19, 2003
Distributor: Paramount
Writer: Elizabeth Hunter
Composer: Michael Kamen (Additional Music)
Cast: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyonce Knowles
Running Time: 2 hours and 3 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some sexual references)

Singin' in Purgatory
by Scott Holleran

MTV Films production The Fighting Temptations is a soulless, humorless imitation of other movies. Unfortunately for fans of Cuba Gooding, Jr., who is among Hollywood's best actors, this cheap knockoff of Sister Act and Sweet Home Alabama is the latest in Gooding's poor script choices.

The plot is basically the same as Sweet Home Alabama with Gooding as Reese Witherspoon's character, aping that movie right down to the opening scene's childhood romance. Gooding's character, Darrin, is a con artist—it's hard to believe he's a rising advertising executive in the big city—and Gooding mounts a Herculean struggle to leave his mark on the character in spite of Elizabeth Hunter's and Saladin K. Patterson's predictable script.

Darrin is inexplicably compelled to return to the Deep South when his Aunt Sally dies. Once there, he's met by Lucius (Mike Epps) and is confronted by the wicked Paulina (impressive Latanya Richardson), a religious woman who forced Darrin's late songstress mother to leave the Baptist church.

Aunt Sally has left Darrin a chunk of change in her will—on the condition that he get the church choir to the annual gospel choir championships. Like Whoopi Goldberg's character in Sister Act, he conceals the truth from the church choir, and, like Reese Witherspoon's character in Sweet Home Alabama, he does so in order to impress others.

Among the others is a lifeless singer named Lilly (Beyonce Knowles, who acts like she's too hip for this small town), a single mother (natch) who performs in the local bar, dresses like a tramp and shakes her groove thing. In his zeal to earn street credibility with urban audiences, director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) fails to capture the South, instead making Temptations seem more like a sunny day on the south side of Chicago than a day back home down south. Urban jargon abounds for no apparent reason. Only Lilly's sweet grandfather (James E. Gaines) makes a distinctly southern impression.

As Darrin and Lilly make eyes at one another, which is as exciting as watching leaves fall, the rest of the choir comes together, sings and hits every wrong note. Director Lynn, the writers and MTV should have noted that the singers and choir director in Sister Act actually trained and practiced their hymns. The Fighting Temptations' choir magically starts singing on cue.

Aside from Steve Harvey's funny radio host, who has a coherent personality, the choir is filled with miscast actors as bumpkins, prisoners, sluts and drunks and there isn't a decent white person in sight. A white man is a dolt, an old white man is a boozer, a white woman is a tonsil hockey tramp, and an old white woman wants to sleep with a black man. The typecasting here is so racist and offensive that it begs for an outcry.

When Darrin is finally undone—and his loyal secretary, Rosa, played by the attractive Lourdes Benedicto, is much more suitable as his love interest—everything is pasted together for the big, gospel-tinged showdown at the choir competition. It's about as interesting and musically entertaining as two seconds of MTV. If somebody told Beyonce Knowles that the song the choir performs in the finale is gospel, somebody lied.

Add what feels like seventeen subplots (none that connect) and forget about gettin' down with the gospel choir—even the holy roller rendition that opens the movie's soundtrack is less than rousing—and The Fighting Temptations, which is as vacuous as its title, makes Sister Act look downright heavenly.

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