A handsome, dashing African-American actor, who could emulate the great Denzel Washington given the chance, comes out of relative nowhere to walk away with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1996 for “Jerry Maguire”. Cuba showed strong stalwart dramatic acting with roles in “Instinct”, “A Murder of Crows” and was utterly amazing in “Men of Honor”. He had such on-screen charisma and was developing a dramatic backbone.
In 2001, Cuba played more scaled back roles in “In the Shadows” and the ensemble comedy “Rat Race”. Cuba’s career took a strange turn with the birth of the critically panned but monster-hit “Snow Dogs” which shot Cuba into the comedic leading man stratosphere. His first follow-up to that hit was the disaster “Boat Trip” and his second is the gospel comedy “The Fighting Temptations”. Will this film solidify Cuba’s comedic turn or allow him to return finally to drama?
Cuba stars as Darrin Hill, an ad-executive who seems to be treading water in the pool of eminent failure. Darrin’s only hope comes from the strangest of places, a private investigator. The PI has tracked down Darrin to tell him that his great-aunt has passed away and he must attend the reading of the will. Darrin agrees and scrapes some cash together to get himself to Georgia.
While in Georgia, Darrin learns that his dying aunt’s last wish was for her prodigal nephew return to the hometown and coax a misfit gospel choir into a winner at the biggest choir competition in the state. If Darrin is successful he will inherit $150,000 dollars. Standing in Darrin’s way are a lot of crazy townsfolk and one head strong lounge singer named Lilly (Beyonce Knowles) who could hold the key to the choir’s success.
I don’t know a lot about gospel music and I wouldn’t know if it was great or awful. I do know that a lot of stars from the black gospel music are in cameos in this film. The music in this film is almost setup like musical numbers in a Broadway production. Some of them come off as American Idol auditions while others spark an interest.
Pop superstar Knowles is allowed to use her soprano-styled vocals in this role and her contribution leads to the film having more credibility than it may deserve. Knowles also shows she is expanding as an actress with the character but not leaving her true passion.
The other upside to this film is the quirky characters in the town. A lot of them are very interesting and make you wonder if this is Georgian equivalent of “Northern Exposure”. My favorite is the drunk town DJ played perfectly by veteran comedian Steve Harvey. His whole character was a hoot.
The most mundane and obviously flawed element in the picture is the “paint-by-numbers” screenplay by relative unknown Elizabeth Hunter. This script has every cliché you can imagine and then some. It is utterly laughable to how bad this thing is written.
Given the concept, the pipes of Knowles and an enjoyment for the music, one may be able to look past the script but it’s just sometimes so very hard.
(2.5 out of 5)
So Says the Soothsayer