The Fighting Temptations

There's no question that Beyoncé Knowles is a pop diva. The 22-year-old Houston native has not only been crowned Pepsi's newest spokeswoman, eclipsing the ever-popular Britney Spears, but she's also earned three Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards, and three MTV Video Music Awards for her solo album, "Dangerously In Love." Last summer, the scintillatingly sexy song stress made her feature film debut as Foxxy Cleopatra in the highly anticipated Goldmember, helping the popular Austin Powers franchise gross an estimated $289.1 million worldwide. But there's still some speculation---mainly from critics like my self---if the bootilicious Beyoncé has what it takes to withstand the dreaded leading lady test.

Unfortunately, the singer's latest film, The Fighting Temptations, co-starring Cuba Gooding, Jr., offers little to no proof of her range as an actress. Why? Because it doesn't require the Diana Ross of Destiny's Child to do anything more than belt out a red-hot rendition of the classic Peggy Lee hit, "Fever."

Set in the small, countrified town of Montecarlo, The Fighting Temptations opens with Darrin Hill (Nigel Washington) watching as his beloved mother, Maryann (Faith Evans), is abruptly thrown out of the Beulah Baptist Church Choir for singing "the devil's music" at a trashy Georgia nightclub.

Twenty-three years later, the sweet, young boy who grew up on the road while his hardworking mom rose through the ranks as a sultry R&B chanteuse, is now an up-and-coming advertising executive with a high-profile job and a fancy New York apartment. One day after pitching a stereotypical ad campaign for malt liquor to a successful African American client, Darrin (the incomprehensibly bad Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is promptly called into his boss' office, where it is shockingly revealed that he was not only kicked out of Yale for faking an Andover diploma, but that he never even graduated from high school. Fired on the spot, Darrin takes to the elevator with his belongings in tow, only to run into a private investigator (Richie Dye) who reveals that his only living relative has just died.

Saddled with credit card debt, down-and-out Darrin boards a train bound for Montecarlo---the same one-horse town that turned its back on him and his secular singin' mama back in the early 1980s---to attend good, old Aunt Sally's funeral. But when the fast-talking hustler learns that his great Aunt's will guarantees him a $150,000 stock portfolio if he leads the church choir to victory at the annual Gospel Explosion, the self-proclaimed music man decides to plant some Southern roots and settle into this quaint, little mudhole.

Of course, there's a hitch. The choir, who brought down the house at Sally's funeral, isn't the group Darrin will be coaching. Instead, it's made up of the very talented, but self-righteous Paulina (LaTonya Richardson), Darrin's evil landlady and the woman who turned his dearly departed mother into a social outcast, and a handful of tone-deaf townies that sing like they've got marbles in their mouths.

Depressed and in need of a minor miracle, Darrin goes in search of inspiration and finds it in the form of a heavenly cabaret singer named Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles), whom he hoodwinks into joining the rundown choir---ironically brimming with such R&B, Gospel, and Hip Hop legends as Melba Moore, Montell Jordan, Angie Stone, T-Bone, and the O'Jays---by pretending to be a big name record producer.

Suffering from a clear-cut case of box office-itis, The Fighting Temptations is so set on mimicking such blockbuster hits as Barbershop and Sister Act that it doesn't pay any attention to its paper-thin plot. Apparently, screenwriters Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson were so preoccupied with the film's musical repertoire that they decided to devote their precious time not to an original, non-formulaic script, but to a clichéd, mind-numbing plot, jam packed with one-dimensional characters, a schmaltzy, sitcom-esque story---very similar to The Music Man---and the most God-awful dialogue since Booty Call.

Just in case that weren't annoying enough, Cuba Gooding, Jr. then break dances on screen like a used car salesman on Viagra, grinning and mugging for the camera as though he were vying for an award entitled, "Spastic of the Year.” Right then and there, The Fighting Temptations goes on a downward spiral straight to hell. Not even poor Beyoncé, looking as though she were in need of a life preserver or better yet, a can of mace to save herself from Cuba's romantic clutches, can rescue this diabolical dud. Temptations is sure to be featured on a number of the year's worst film lists, right next to its partner in crime, Gigli.

Predictable, boring, and just plain stupid, The Fighting Temptations is the type of movie that tries so hard to be funny that it ends up becoming a cinematic free-for-all. Director Jonathan Lynn ( The Whole Nine Yards and My Cousin Vinny)---usually so adept at comedy, at least comedy that's fresh, fun, and yuk worthy---is so all over the map here in terms of theme and focus that he inadvertently fills this cumbersome trifle with so much garbage (i.e., a series of everlasting comedic pauses that drone on, and, on, and, on, until another musical sequence is introduced) that it topples over halfway through its opening act. We’re left to wonder: Is The Fighting Temptations a washed up comedy or a monotonous musical?