Gospel heals all wounds as two of the most photogenic stars on the planet — Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles — unite a quarreling Georgia congregation in the infectious romantic comedy “The Fighting Temptations.”
The music resuscitates a plot of pure hokum based on the everlasting crutch of “We gotta put on a show.” And it soothes the irritation of Beyonce’s slightly wooden performance and Cuba’s tendency to overdo any role to the tenth degree.
Never mind all that. This is a bellyaching, foot-stomping, hoot-and-hollering movie for any crowd.
First, director Jonathan Lynn (“The Whole Nine Yards,” “My Cousin Vinny”) never forgets that it’s a comedy. And who’s funnier than God’s flawed followers — those self-righteous Christian folk who live at the church but spend their days worshipping the seven deadly sins?
No one — except maybe the sinners who never get near a church.
Secondly, “The Fighting Temptations” has an all-star musical lineup of R&B, gospel and hip-hop artists that no audience can resist, including Faith Evans, Melba Moore, Shirley Caesar and dozens of others.
Gooding is Darrin Hill, an up-and-coming, hustling ad exec determined to soar up that New York corporate ladder. But his brilliant ideas are hobbled by a chronic inability to tell the truth, and he soon violates the 11th Commandment — “Thou shalt not get caught.”
“We cannot be represented by people who tell lies,” blusters his pompous boss (Dakin Matthews).
“But we are in advertising!” Darrin replies.
As mountains of credit card debt build up, Darrin escapes by attending his Aunt Sally’s funeral. A surprise comes with the will — Sally’s dying wish is for Darrin to revive her church choir and win a regional gospel competition.
How perfect — especially since Darrin has told everyone in his hometown that he’s a big-time music producer. Plus he won’t get his inheritance without it.
In the time-honored tradition of the underdog, Darrin has to find people who can actually hold a note — single mother Lilly (Beyonce) and three talented convicts (rapper T-Bone, singer Montell Jordan and Chris Cole). He convinces them to unite as a team and take on the slick heavy hitters singing their hearts out for God.
Standing in his way is Paulina Pritchett (LaTanya Richardson), a jealous, power-hungry church treasurer who wants the coveted “gospel director” title for herself.
Cuba and Beyonce get plenty of help from their supporting cast. As the playboy Lucius, comedian Mike Epps has a roaringly funny riff on being a Southern booty-ologist that is still tame enough for kids to laugh at. Steve Harvey is deadpan hysterical as the town’s stoned radio announcer.
Wendell Pierce moves from the heavy drama of HBO’s “The Wire” to the wry humor of the film’s browbeaten Rev. Lewis.
“Son, if that ain’t Jesus calling, you better turn it off,” he says when Darrin’s cell phone rings during a service.
There’s even a barbershop where haircuts are dished out in perfect harmony by R&B group The O’Jays.
Like a good gospel song, “The Fighting Temptations” works up into its rhythm, getting punchier as it goes on. Beyonce gets more relaxed with each song and Cuba even tones down the wattage every once in a while.
If their chemistry is a bit stiff, so what? They sure are gorgeous, and the music is great. Go to it, y’all.