Movie Review: Tyler Perry's Temptation
Rating: PG 13 (some scenes of sexuality, violence, and drug content)
Length: 111 minutes
Release date: Mar. 29, 2013
Directed by: Tyler Perry
Stars: 1.5 out of 5
If any moviegoers are wondering what Tyler Perry's latest film is about, the lengthy title is the first sign of the tedious storytelling that lies ahead. In "Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor," a young matchmaker (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) slowly spirals into a harmful lifestyle. An unhappy marriage and stalled career lead to a damaging affair, drug abuse, and an incurable disease. This sequence of events sounds a bit preachy and over the top all on its own, but the weak subplots add to the feeling that the entire screenplay is half-baked.
Without a doubt, Perry gained a devoted audience after achieving big-screen success almost immediately with his first film, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." As a writer, director, producer, and actor, he has worked on twenty films to date. "Temptation" is Perry's fourteenth screenplay, but the movie unwisely relies on several of the filmmaker's tiring archetypes and formulaic plot devices. Like many of Perry's earlier movies, "Temptation" is a loose adaptation of one of his plays. The film has major deviations, but it retains the core do-gooder message so common to Perry's stories. Bad actions breed bad consequences. Turning things around early on may lead to a second chance, but continual bad behavior will end with some form of irreparable punishment.
This message is handed to the audience by an aged version of Judith, the protagonist in "Temptation." The movie opens with a struggling couple in a therapy session. When the husband abruptly walks out, the marriage counselor reveals her suspicions about the wife's infidelity. Hoping to change the course of her client's life, the counselor shares the story of a woman who was ruined by temptation, referring to the woman as her sister. The movie tries to surprise viewers by using two different actresses to play the character of Judith in the past and the marriage counselor in the present. Yet, the would-be plot twist is too predictable, and the choice to use two actresses oddly clashes with the other actors who portray both the younger and older versions of their characters.
Judith's descent begins with growing discontent. She sees her husband Brice as too safe, practical, and cowardly, especially when he chooses to ignore a group of men who make inappropriate comments toward her. She wants to launch her own business as a marriage counselor but finds herself in a dead-end matchmaker position. When charming entrepreneur Harley comes along, Judith is the only one who can't see how this story is going to end. Bold and smooth-tongued Harley is played by Robbie Jones, who perfectly contrasts with calm, complacent Brice, portrayed by Lance Gross.
For anyone who loves drama, "Temptation" is rich in conflict, deception, and karmic resolution. Yet, the plot twists are too flimsy to be exciting, and the actors often look as though their emotions are hard to squeeze out. Chemistry is lacking between the characters. Major plot elements are glazed over. At one point, Judith finds cocaine in Harley's home and tries it for the first time. A few scenes later, she has progressed into an out-of-control addict. And as with most of Perry's films, the conclusion is thrown together too hastily. The film is largely about slow seduction, but scenes are rushed or overloaded with cuts that create a frantic and inconsistent finished product.
Damaged women, random drug addicts, and church are all familiar elements of Perry's stories. Judith's mother, played by Ella Joyce, serves as the religious voice of reason in "Temptation," practically narrating her daughter's tragic fall with impromptu sermons. The acting performances are either too dry or exhibit a dramatic exaggeration that's more suitable for theater. Kim Kardashian pops up from time to time as Judith's frenemy and coworker, who persistently insults her appearance until Judith agrees to a makeover.
One subplot that floats in and out of focus features singer and actress Brandy Norwood as Melinda, Brice's coworker. Melinda is HIV positive and seeking a new life away from her abusive ex-lover, who, of course, turns out to be Harley. No one will be amazed by the gradual reveal of Harley's violent nature, as he is pushy and aggressive in his advances toward Judith right from the start. It's hard to believe that the clunky exchanges between Judith and Harley could have weakened her resistance in the first place. Harley uses cheesy pickup lines and even comments on the sexiness of Judith's slow breathing.
In the final scenes, Judith receives a heavy-handed dose of justice, while Brice, the former cuckold, gets a new family and a career boost. Judith ends up diseased, alone, and making up for her bad ways by attending church with her mother. Balance is restored, and the bad people are dealt with. With this subject matter, Perry could have explored any number of themes, but the director chose to remain true to his own brand of shallow anecdotes. His fans may appreciate the consistency, but others may be less impressed with this passionless morality tale.