Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Directed by Tyler Perry.
2013. Rated PG-13, 111 minutes.
Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Lance Gross
Vanessa Williams
Brandy Norwood
Robbie Jones
Kim Kardashian
Ella Joyce
Candice Coke

Judith (Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Gross) first met when they were six years old. Now in their mid-twenties, they’ve been married for six years. Things are looking up for them. She has just started her job as the in-house counselor at a dating service while he is pursuing his dream of owning his own pharmacy. Like lots of couples they’ve settled into a routine. It works, but it’s not necessarily thrilling, so she is feeling a little down about the whole thing. Brice has also forgotten his wife’s birthday which adds to her sadness. In comes fabulously wealthy, handsome, and young Harley (Jones). He’s looking to invest in the company Judith works for. The two have been paired together as he also works on a computer program that can assess compatibility between clients. Doesn’t every dating website already have this? I digress. Point is, Harley takes an immediate liking to Judith and begins to woo her with the finer things in life.

That simple premise, maybe tweaked a bit on the details, has been the starting point for numerous movies. We have all seen at least a few of them. However, as writer/director Tyler Perry has consistently shown, he can never leave well enough alone. He insists on stacking the odds much higher than needed against his protagonist. This could have been a thorough, mature examination of the two relationships involved, both Judith’s with Brice and Harley. Instead, we get very easy markers that are never dealt with and heaping helpings melodrama. Then there is always another problem to add to the pile. Each one is not just an emotional issue, either. These are potentially fatal problems so intently focused on our heroine the movie renders itself a farce rather than the engaging character study of a woman in flux. Other similar movies have subplots, occasionally lots of them. However, they generally concern other characters. They don’t bury the lead beneath an avalanche of earth-shattering dilemmas. It gets to the point where we realize the movie itself doesn’t like her. This is most evident in its harsh and cynical conclusion. Admittedly, this fits with his typically southern Christian viewpoint. Breaking the sanctity of marriage is cause for swift and eternal damnation.

To try and deal with all those issues raised, the movie simply shifts into hero vs. villain mode. This exposes another Tyler Perry trait. His bad guys are so over the top they cease to seem human. They are hissing, seething balls of rage. Harley is no exception. Robbie Jones is not a bad actor. The material leaves him no choice but to play it with both fists gripping ham and a mouth constantly full of scenery. This further adds to the feeling we’re watching something comical in nature. This wouldn’t be an issue if the movie didn’t so obviously want to be taken seriously. The mismatch of tone and content wreaks havoc on the film.

If there is one thing Mr. Perry usually gets right, it is wringing heartfelt performances out of his female leads. More than the zany antics of Madea (thankfully not present here) or the sermonizing of his elder characters, these ladies ground his movies. They provide an emotional core for the audience to latch onto. Though she’s not yet the same caliber of actress as Perry alums Kimberly Elise and Angela Bassett, Jurnee Smollett-Bell more than holds her own and shows great potential. She’s been in front of a camera since she was very young, but this is her first grown up role, as far as I know. Hopefully, she’ll have more in her future.

Conversely, Perry could not coax even one convincing line out of supporting player Kim Kardashian. She is just painful to watch. The few lines she had were far too many as it sounds like she’s reading them for the very first time. Also, the normally solid Vanessa Williams was equally as bad. Her faux-French accent was distractingly horrendous. It also doesn’t have to be there at all. It is merely used to set up an unfunny one-liner late in the movie. As the husband, Lance Gross is bland, but likable. This is actually high praise since the character exists to be exactly that. The only strong performance in the movie beside our leading lady’s is given by singer/actress Brandy Norwood. Unfortunately, her character occasionally appears to be in a horror movie all by herself. She eventually joins the rest of the cast in this movie during the third act.

Temptation is a movie that wants to be a mature portrayal of a marriage in crisis and how it might play out in biblical terms. In actuality, it is steeped in so much melodrama, its like the actors are performing a difficult trapeze act sans net. Since what it tries to be and what it is don’t line up it all becomes laughable. It’s also heavy-handed with an over-simplified conclusion. All grays are removed from this world in favor of easily contrasted blacks and whites. Judith ceases to be a woman and becomes a blatant scare tactic used against all women.

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

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