Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor"

Director: Tyler Perry
Runtime: 111 minutes

My first experience with the ever-expanding Tyler Perry canon started in 2006. Desperate to bring something home from the nearby Blockbuster (RIP), I grabbed Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Thus began my introduction to both Perry and his most famous creation, Madea. To my surprise, I actually thought Diary was passable. Not really as funny as it wanted to be, but there was something pleasant enough about how thoroughly average it was. However, I have never once made an effort to see any of Perry's other work, as the reviews I read seemed to suggest that they really weren't for me. I thought I would never cross paths with Mr. Perry again. I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. 

In an attempt to rebound from his attempt at screen stardom (2012's Alex Cross), Perry has returned to the big screen only behind the camera. It's too bad, because Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, could really use some of the lively sass of Perry's signature creation. But never mind the sass. This is more than just Tyler Perry in drama mode. This is Tyler Perry in full-blown sermonizing mode, with everything from a Good Christian Woman (tm), to a character who is basically Satan/temptation incarnate. From the first trailer, the film looked like a laughable mess. It is, but perhaps not enough. The key failing of Perry's film is that it can't even fully succeed at being high-voltage camp, because too much of it is simply boring

Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) works for a Washington D.C.-based dating service that caters to older, wealthy men. There, she must survive her boss Janice (Vanessa Williams and a flimsy French accent), and vapid co-worker Ava (Kim Kardashian). Despite the stresses of her job, Judith still has her husband, Brice (Lance Gross, frequently shirtless), who she has known most of her life. And, as Judith is a Good Christian Woman (tm), Brice is the only man she's ever slept with, and the only man she ever needs to sleep with. Yet temptation (ah, there's that title) arrives in the form of new client Harley (Robbie Jones, also frequently shirtless). Janice enlists Judith to work with the very attractive and wealthy Harley, and it doesn't take long before Harley starts hitting on the resident Good Christian Woman (tm). 

For roughly an hour, that's all that happens. That's your plot summary. Aside from a subplot involving Brice's mysterious new co-worker (Brandy Norwood), nearly 65 minutes pass with little more than painfully dragged out flirtations between Judith and Harley. You can zone out and you won't miss anything. Not even anything unintentionally funny. As Judith spends 65 screen minutes resisting romantic temptation, so the audience must spend those same minutes resisting the temptation to leave the theater. Perry's characters are flat, and his dialogue rarely rises above competent. Yet, for the patient, Temptation has a reward.

Once the Good Christian Woman (tm) bites the apple, Temptation takes off like a North Korean rocket, and lands with even less grace. One minute Judith is enjoying the powdered sugar on a beignet at Cafe du Monde, and the next, she's hitting the cocaine like a pro. Yet to describe it all would ruin the fun. Suffice it to say that Temptation's final 35 minutes contain one ridiculous, overblown development after another, culminating in a resolution that has some of the most bone-headed, backwards moralizing to be projected at 24 fps in quite some time. Perry has never exactly been one for subtlety, although that isn't a bad thing by default. But allow me to transcribe one of the last act's, er, less elegant exchanges:

Judith's Mother: That boy is gonna hurt you somethin' fierce! He's gonna drag you straight to hell!

Judith: Well then, Imma enjoy the riiiiiiiiiiiiiide!

Judith's Mother: *slaps Judith* Where you get a mouth like that!?

Judith: *devious cackling*

Judith's Mother: *fervent praying/sermonizing*

If anything about the above conversation worked for you on any level, then by all means seek out Temptation (though maybe skip the theater). If not, then simply avoid it, because the performers do nothing to elevate the material. The cast is giving the minimum amount of effort (save for Kardashian, whose work doesn't deserve to be called acting) at best. Only Williams and Ella Royce (as Judith's mother) bring a sense of campy fun, and their contributions are minimal at best. As for the production values, well, let's just say that it looks marginally better than a standard outing at the Lifetime Channel. 

Perry's latest is a largely dull and predictable affair, and only achieves the special sort of so-bad-it's-good fun after making you wait for over an hour. But if you have the stamina to survive until act three, then Temptation will prove rewarding if only for how spectacularly its old-fashioned morals and over-the-top execution derail the entire film. Let's hope that Perry's next melodrama starts the derailing process sooner, and gives audiences a longer train wreck to savor.

Grade: D
Entertainment Value [Acts 1+2]: C
Entertainment Value [Act 3]: A-

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