Los Angeles Times
September 19, 2003
"A good news gospel in 'Fighting Temptations'"
By Kevin Thomas
"The Fighting Temptations" is a rousing, warmhearted
comedy, as infectious as the gospel music it celebrates. Cuba Gooding
Jr. and pop superstar Beyoncé Knowles lead a large, entertaining
cast in a film abundant with feel-good pleasures.
Gooding's Darrin Hill is a Manhattan ad agency hotshot on an upward
curve when shot down by his boss, who has discovered that his academic
and professional background is fictitious. With Darrin's dismissal
comes word that his great-aunt Sally has died. He takes the first
train to his hometown, Monte Carlo, Ga., which he almost certainly
would not have done had he not been fired.
In 1980, when Darrin was a grade school boy, his beautiful and
talented mother (Faith Evans), a Vietnam War widow, had been drummed
out of the Beulah Baptist Church choir for singing in a nightclub
frequented by "sinners" and for recording a song called
(gasp! ) "Do It to Me Again." She took Darrin by the hand,
caught the next bus for Chicago and launched a respectable career
as a disco-era singer in the Donna Summer mold, but she was killed
in a hit-and-run accident. At loose ends and dodging creditors,
Darrin decides to pay his respects to the great-aunt he hadn't written
to in 20 years.
What he expects to be a quick stop becomes extended with the reading
of Sally's will, which leaves him $150,000 - provided he directs
the Beulah choir to victory in the Gospel Explosion, to be held
in six weeks. Never mind that he has no experience; he feels he
has a chance of winning once he discovers that his childhood playmate
Lilly has grown up to be a sensationally beautiful and gifted singer
(Knowles) playing at a local club. Alas, as a single mother she
too has been drummed out of the Beulah choir, by the same bossy,
judgmental woman (LaTanya Richardson) who drove Darrin's mother
away. Darrin's brash manner doesn't help.
This is a lot of prologue and at 118 minutes "The Fighting
Temptations" runs long for a comedy. But writers Elizabeth
Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson and director Jonathan Lynn know
audiences will assume that they're not going to be sent home sad,
so they take leisurely pleasure in getting there. This allows time
for Darrin to undergo a reasonably credible transformation and for
a potential romance with Lilly to develop but above all for lots
of hilarity in Darrin's struggle to assemble an effective but highly
From the kernel of the Beulah choir emerges the Fighting Temptations,
featuring two Beulah regulars (Melba Moore and Rue McClanahan) augmented
by stalwarts not only of gospel but also of rhythm and blues and
hip-hop, spotlighting the likes of Angie Stone, the O'Jays, Montell
Jordan, T-Bone and Zane. Also in the casually interracial choir
is David Sheridan (of "Corky Romano"), and at the keyboard
is Mickey Jones, former Bob Dylan drummer and alumnus of the New
Christy Minstrels as well as the First Edition with Kenny Rogers.
There are special appearances by the Rev. Shirley Caesar, Ann Nesby,
Mary Mary, Ramiyah, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin and the Blind
Boys of Alabama. Contributing substantially to the fiIm's comedy
along with Richardson are Mike Epps as Darrin's randy Uncle Lucas
and Steve Harvey as a comical1y laid-back local DJ.
There's a lot to take in, but all of it is good fun served up with
a kind wisdom that gives the film an endearing substance. Knowles
is a natural as an actress and this film shows she has another world
in entertainment to conquer. It is an ebullient yet sensitive Gooding
however, who carries the film with a deceptively nonchalant appeal.