Another step down in the career freefall for Cuba Gooding, Jr. (although I suppose this is actually a step up, considering Gooding's previous "Boat Trip" and "Snow Dogs"), "Fighting Temptations" manages some amusing moments, yet wears out its welcome, as the film runs considerably overlong at over two hours. Gooding stars as Darren, a NYC marketing executive who gets promoted, then gets fired after the company finds out that he's falsified his resume.
He heads down South to Georgia (complete with a nice Amtrak promo, which made me happy, since I'm something of a fan of rail travel) after getting fired and finding out that his Aunt Sally has just passed. While Darren thinks that his stay will be brief, he finds himself compelled to stay due to a possible $150,000 inheritance (That, and the fact that his creditors are after him). Things aren't that easy, though: Darren must pull together the local gospel choir and get them into the "Gospel Explosion" contest.
Darrin's recruiting efforts aren't exactly successful, as while Darren gets a strong base for the choir in Lily (Beyonce Knowles), a local lounge singer who Darren falls for once again after she was his childhood sweetheart, things are otherwise rather grim. Before long, Darren finds himself turning to local convicts to try and get singers (not before the inevitable "tryout" scene, of course). He also runs into Faye (LaTanya Richardson), the church treasurer who ran Darren and his mother out of town years ago, since his mother sang in the local clubs.
Gooding, Jr. is consistently overshadowed by his co-stars, such as Mike Epps, who brings energy and respectable comedic timing to his role. Epps plays the same character as he did in the "Friday" films, but anything that adds something at least somewhat edgy to an otherwise straightforward film is appreciated. Steve Harvey is also quite amusing as the local DJ. Other supporting cast members generally bring their best (or at least some decent stuff) to the table, which manages to make Gooding look like an even blander actor by comparison. Beyonce Knowles, while still improving as an actress, has a natural, unforced presence and charm that's involving and fun to watch. Certainly, she's also a great singer - her performance of "Fever" is a delight. The romantic angle between Knowles and Gooding, however, doesn't work - the two don't have chemistry.
The film is, then, a mixed bag. I liked some of the performances and the film's music is terrific. The script, however, is generally lousy. While the cast wrings a couple of chuckles out of some mediocre lines, the plot is about as predictable as it can get, working with stereotypes. Obviously, it's no question whether or not the choir will get into the "Gospel Explosion". It's no help to the film's pace that the film postpones the inevitable answer for what seems like ages. A good 15-20 minutes could have been snipped.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn ("My Cousin Vinny"), the film makes the best out of the material (one gets the sense it could have been much worse), but Gooding, Jr.'s unenergetic performance and the cliched screenplay keep this from becoming anything of note.
VIDEO: "Fighting Temptations" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a heavily cropped pan & scan edition is also available). The presentation is rather good, as some aspects of it are excellent, but a few flaws are noticable. Sharpness and detail are good, if not great, yet the slight softness seems to be an intentional element of the photography.
A little bit of edge enhancement was viewed in several scenes, while a couple of slight compression artifacts were spotted. These issues were noticed, but weren't terribly distracting. On a positive note, the print was in excellent condition, with not a scratch or mark to be found. The film's warm color palette remained vivid and bright, with nice saturation.
SOUND: "Fighting Temptations" is presented by Paramount in Dolby Digital 5.1. Most of the film's soundtrack is front-heavy, focused on the dialogue and occasional hints of score. However, the gospel sequences open up the film's sound mix quite superbly, bringing in the surrounds to reinforce the music and singing, which also gets a big spread across the front speakers. Dialogue remained clear and clean throughout.
EXTRAS: 8 extended musical numbers, 7 extended scenes, the film's theatrical trailer and trailers for "Timeline", "Against the Ropes", "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" and Richard Linklater's terrific "School of Rock".
Final Thoughts: Great music and some fairly good supporting performances don't do much to liven up a routine script, thin plot and overlong running time (this could have been a tight 100 minutes instead of 122). Paramount's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality and a few supplements. I'd recommend the soundtrack, but the movie is certainly more of a rental.
The Film **