Directed by: Tyler Perry
Starring: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams, Robbie Jones, Brandy Norwood, Renée Taylor
Never has a film so needed Tyler Perry in Madea drag or a pot of boiling grits hurled in someone’s face as Tyler Perry’s Temptation — easily the prolific filmmaker’s worst film since Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Girls (2007). While it’s better than that entry in his filmography, it’s actually less entertaining because — up till the last few scenes — Temptation lacks the fever dream frenzied melodrama of the earlier movie. Temptation is Perry at his most sanctimoniously preachy — something he’s been soft-pedaling in recent years — and also at his most reactionary. This is adapted — pretty loosely, it seems — from a Perry stage play from 2008 called The Marriage Counselor (the online description of which sounds more interesting than the film). Here we’re back to the Perry who advocates the “no-sex-before-marriage, folks” message (what does this say about 43-year-old bachelor Perry?), church-going on a daily basis and a set of strict strictures for wives (including meal cooking and sex three times a week — presumably as separate endeavors). It’s relevant, I suppose, to people who practice these beliefs, but not so much to anyone else.
One of the changes to the play includes slapping a framing story on it with this “true story” being told by the world’s most unethical marriage counselor, who seems to believe counseling involves scaring the client into marital submission along the lines of her own beliefs, rather than the client’s. It will come as no surprise to anyone as to whose story is being told here. Essentially, the spiel is about two Christian innocents — sweethearts since they were 6 — moving from some golden-hued southland to the bedeviled big city which is, in this case, Washington, D.C. (Perry constantly reminds us of this with unnecessary skyline shots.) Wife Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) dreams of the day when she can open her own marriage counseling business (see what I mean about no surprise), but spends her days toiling away at something for online matchmaking entrepreneur Janice (Vanessa Williams with a really bad French accent, which turns out to be justified). Meanwhile, her husband, the beefy-but-boring Brice (Lance Gross), works as a pharmacist at comic relief Mrs. Chapman’s (Renée Taylor) drugstore. He dreams of owning his own pharmacy, so both husband and wife have aspirations, but his are more reasonable because, well, he’s the man.
All this comes apart when Judith gets involved with equally-beefy-but-rich-and-exciting Harley (Robbie Jones). (All desirable males in Perry’s movies tend to have gym-rat bodies that his camera lingers on far more than those of the women — which may or may not be for his primarily female audience.) Of course, no good can come of this because it’s sinful — and Harley is bad news, which you can tell from his first scene. Soon Judith is drinking, doping and hanging out in dens of sin where even homosexual hijinks (of the PG-13 variety) are taking place. The story becomes increasingly dumb before finally erupting into full-blown insanity when a subplot involving a beleagured co-worker (Brandy Norwood) of Brice’s turns out not to be sub-anything. Then it turns into full-tilt Perry insane melodrama, which is, at least, entertaining, though not in the way Perry seems to intend. It’s mostly a tepid tease (that rating keeps its steamy promises at bay). I will say one of the twists made the audience gasp. Why, I don’t know.
For a Perry film (casting has usually been his strong suit), it’s also blandly cast and acted. None of the characters have much spark and the performances are middling at best. The big come-on of casting the talent-challenged Kim Kardashian (you could play solitaire on that woman’s backside while she’s standing up, which I guess is the appeal) is just as annoying and pointless as you might imagine. I used to kvetch about Perry selling the gospel with weed and flatulence jokes. Right now, those seem like the good old days. Rated PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content.
Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher