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Paramount Studios presents
Darrin: Your act is terrific.
DVD ReviewThe formula is timeworn, but eternally successful: Take a bunch of downtrodden misfits from various walks of life, whip them into tip-top shape, then turn them loose so they can prove their critics wrong, beat the odds, and bring home a championship. The recipe usually works like a charm, at least it did for those hapless ragamuffins in The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, as well as that motley crew of has-beens and also-rans in Major League. Yet when the formula is removed from the athletic arena, it often produces spotty results, and The Fighting Temptations is Exhibit A. Strikingly similar to Whoopi Goldberg's Sister Act, Jonathan Lynn's far less amusing film copies the blueprint, but shifts the emphasis from sports to gospel singing. Not exactly the same excitement quotient, but the inspiring music should stoke the spirit much like a clutch home run, right?
If only. Unfortunately, The Fighting Temptations is neither exciting nor inspirational as it tells the predictable, clichéd story of fired advertising executive Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who returns to his boyhood Georgia church for the funeral of his beloved Aunt Sally (Ann Nesby). There's little love lost between Darrin and the judgmental congregation that years earlier shunned his mother for pursuing a career in (horrors!) R&B music, so after paying his respects, Darrin intends to return to his whirlwind New York life. Aunt Sally, however, has other plans for her fast-talking, deal-making, credit-compromised nephew. Even from the grave, she hopes to guide Darrin back to the straight and narrow, stipulating in her will that if he wishes to inherit the princely sum of $150,000, he must lead the church choir to glory and triumph at the annual Gospel Explosion competition.
Desperate to become financially solvent, Darrin accepts the challenge, despite his musical inexperience. Managing the egos of the existing choir members is difficult enough, but the group's numbers have drastically dwindled over the years, forcing Darrin to recruit almost anyone to join the ensemble's dubious ranksand that includes a barbershop quartet of real barbers (played by The O'Jays), and a trio of convicts who attend rehearsals in their prison jumpsuits and shackles. At the same time, Darrin tries to romance his lead singer and former childhood sweetheart, Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles), but she refuses to fall for his stale lines and see-through alibis...at first.
There's nary an original moment in The Fighting Temptations, and the film only comes alive during its rousing (and thankfully frequent) musical numbers. That's not surprising, considering it was produced by MTV, a fact which also explains the movie's total lack of substance. Although Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson sprinkle their screenplay with a few funny lines, the film still plods tediously along, taking way too much time to arrive at its various plot points. Clocking in at just over two hours, The Fighting Temptations is at least a half hour too long, with a heavy dose of unnecessary exposition hampering its first half, and a limp buildup spoiling the listless, foregone climax.
Gooding attacks his role with his usual vim and vigor (even showing off some dazzling breakdance moves), but his one-note portrayal soon wears thin. The beautiful Béyonce brightens up the proceedings considerably, and although her acting talent pales compared to her supreme vocal skill, she nicely holds her own, even though her interest in and attraction to Gooding doesn't ring true. Faith Evans, Melba Moore, The O'Jays, and the fabulous Shirley Caesar help inject some much-needed spirit into the proceedings, but can't salvage the film or grant the audience the deliverance it so dearly craves.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: Thanks to a picture-perfect transfer, The Fighting Temptations looks superb on DVD, with lush colors, accurate fleshtones, and crisp clarity often masking the film's lack of substance. Contrast is especially good, and bright colors, such as the vibrant blue choir robes, resist bleeding. Print defects are completely absent and no edge enhancement could be detected.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Like the film itself, the audio perks up immeasurably during the musical numbers, which take full advantage of the DD 5.1 capabilities. The songs benefit from exceptional fidelity that sweeps across all speakers and provides a truly enveloping experience. Bass is warm, but never overpowering, and the wailing high notes are rock solid and really show off the track's terrific range. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, but ambient sounds are kept to a minimum during non-musical sequences, leaving the rear speakers conspicuously silent. Levels rise a notch or two during the gospel numbers, but never enough to provoke volume adjustment.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Against the Ropes, Timeline, The School of Rock, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
1 TV Spots/Teasers
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsIt's tough to fight the temptation to fall asleep during this bland, interminable musical comedy, but The Fighting Temptations only grabs our attention when it bursts into song. Fans of fine gospel singing will certainly get an earful, but should probably skip the movie and just buy the soundtrack instead.
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