Published Sep 01, 2003Cuba Gooding Jr.'s personality was well-suited to the part of the overbearing football player Rod Tidwell in Jerry McGuire. It's a role for which he won a best supporting Oscar and it's a role he reprises again and again in other films. The problem is, sometimes the parts he plays don't call for as much ham as he is willing to dish up. That goes double when playing against a relatively flat performer like Beyoncé Knowles. At least Cuba's part in The Fighting Temptations is that of an ad-man, someone whose enthusiasm he can plainly relate to.
As a child, Darrin's mother Maryann was unceremoniously forced out of her church when it came to light that she was singing secular music in the hopes of becoming a professional singer. Distraught, Maryann took Darrin (Gooding Jr.) and left for New York City, leaving their warm Southern town and their beloved Aunt Sally behind. Years later, Darrin is on his own, a struggling junior executive at an ad agency in New York, whose bad credit has almost caught up with him. When he loses his job and finds out his Aunt Sally has died, Darrin goes to his hometown to attend her funeral and learns she has willed him a significant amount of money. The only catch is he has to direct Sally's pride and joy the church choir and lead them into a competition. Desperate, Darrin takes the challenge, and reconnects with his Southern roots, his old friends, and his old flame Lilly (Knowles).
The real gold in The Fighting Temptations is a combination of surprisingly witty lines (is that the right word?) and stellar music performed by a grab bag of supporting actors/musicians, like Faith Evans (Maryann), Melba Moore, Angie Stone, Montell Jordan, T-Bone and Lil' Zane. Latanya Richardson, Steve Harvey and the scene-stealing Mike Epps round out the impressive supporting cast.
It is a cast that struggles to keep the movie afloat despite an only slightly toned-down Gooding Jr., and a forgettable performance by Knowles in a role with a bit of depth. Wannabe artsy camera angles are thrown in for good measure (like the swinging zoom-in on Darrin's no-signal cellular phone and the sideways sweep of the church's attendance board) and a lukewarm chemistry between Gooding Jr. and Knowles also put a drag on The Fighting Temptations. (Paramount)