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Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr) left his hometown of Montecarlo, Georgia, to make it as an advertising executive in New York. When his fake academic records are discovered Darrin is fired by his company. While busily dodging creditors, Darrin receives news that his beloved Aunt Sally has died and returns home for the reading of the will. Things look up when he discovers he has inherited shares worth $150,000, but there's a catch. To receive the payout, Darrin must take charge of the local church choir and lead it to success at the annual Gospel Explosion championship. Drafting beautiful jazz singer and single mother Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles) into the choir, Darrin sets about turning his collection of misfits and part-timers into a winning combination.

Review by Richard Kuipers:
When it sings, it soars. When it doesn't, it dives. To hear some of the best gospel music ever presented in a major motion picture, audiences will have to endure the corniest of plots and dialogue that sounds like it was written after an overdose of wafers from Our Lady Of The Sacred Feel-Good Script Church. With Cuba Gooding Jr acting like he's still in Jerry Maguire and Beyoncé Knowles not even approximating what we understand to be acting, The Fighting Temptations has only its musical highlights to recommend.

A variation on the well-worn story of the selfish and misguided man who has to better himself by taking a hopeless team to the top, this offers nothing new to the formula. Proceedings open with the requisite flashback to childhood and this one's bizarre thanks to some unfortunate timing. When cute young Darrin asks cute young Lilly to be his girlfriend, she turns him down: "sorry, I want to marry Michael Jackson."

Bet the writers wished they'd chosen a nice guy like Ice-T instead. Once Darrin returns to claim his debt-saving dough, all we're waiting for is a reunion with grown up Lilly who will of course turn out to be the woman of his dreams. Sure enough, Darrin slinks down to the local jazz joint where Lilly's strutting her sexy stuff on stage. Proving that love can be deaf as well as blind, he watches her ruin the Little Willie John/Peggy Lee classic Fever and is convinced that all his problems are solved. It's not as easy as that of course and the film finds any number of clumsy ways to keep the predestined couple apart until the plot machinery light turns green. These include the meddling of hypocritical boarding house owner Paulina Pritchett (LaTanya Richardson) and too many detours to the local prison to recruit a trio of golden-voiced inmates.

Naturally it all works out in the end but there's at least 20 minutes of excess dialogue baggage before we get to the rousing finale at the Gospel Explosion Championships. On the evidence presented here it's obvious that director Jonathan Lynn has little interest in the dumb story and ploughs all his energy into the musical numbers. And what numbers they are. Fantastic performances by members of the O'Jays and real-life religious singers The Reverend Shirley Caesar and The Blind Boys Of Alabama just about make up for the dreadful script (Steve Harvey's monologues as a local DJ are the only bright moments) and even the infusion of hip-hop stylings into "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" somehow works. Pity the rest of the film is bogged down in the stickiest of syrup.
DVD special features include extended scenes, extended music numbers and the theatrical trailer.

Published: August 26, 2004

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CAST: Cuba Gooding jnr, Beyoncé Knowles, Nigel Washington, Chloe Bailey, Demetress Long, Ann Nesby, Faith Evans

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Lynn

SCRIPT: Elizabeth Hunter, Saladin K. Patterson

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen, dolby digital, English 5.1 surround, English dolby surround, French dolby surround, English subtitles

SPECIAL FEATURES: Extended music numbers; extended scenes; trailer


DVD RELEASE: August 26, 2004

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