Have you ever wondered where people of different professions go when they die? For example, as a former professor of English and journalism I often thought that heaven for those in my line of work might be someplace where you could walk through a park and find William Faulkner or Shakespeare or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Herman Melville or Nathaniel Hawthorne or Charles Dickens or Edgar Allan Poe just hanging out on a bench waiting for someone to sit down and talk. Conversely, an English professor’s hell would consist of being confined to a room with an endless supply of freshman compositions and red pens.
The recent death of iconic film critic Roger Ebert gave me pause to consider a movie critic’s heaven and hell. Of course heaven would be a place to watch “Casablanca” sitting between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman or to have lunch with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly as you quiz them about “Rear Window” or to ask Paul Newman how he ate all those hard-boiled eggs in “Cool Hand Luke.” And what constitutes critics’ hell? How about being imprisoned in a theater where the only things playing are Tyler Perry films?
Although Perry probably is best known for his Madea films, he also occasionally makes a serious movie, and his latest foray into this area is “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.” Now in case you are wondering why I deigned subjecting myself to this soap opera that’s not even worthy of running on Lifetime, the answer is a simple one. My choices were reduced to this movie or “G.I. Joe,” neither which elicited a paroxysm of joyful anticipation from me; thus, I resorted to a coin flip, and here we are.
Because this film’s title is so absurdly long, I shall forthwith and hence refer to it as “Temptation” and tell you that it begins in the office of a marriage counselor where a husband and wife are trying to patch things up. But the whole session fails when the husband storms out saying that he just can’t take things anymore. At this point the following riveting dialogue takes place.
Wife: “I don’t want to hurt him. He deserves better.”
Counselor: “Better than you?”
Counselor: “Why do you feel that way?”
Wife: “He’s a nice guy. Consistent, loving, but I feel like we’re roommates, not husband and wife.”
From this conversation, the counselor deduces that the wife has met another man who makes her feel much more important than her husband does, and she launches into a story about her sister, a flashback that forms the main story in the movie. And here’s the saga of Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross).
Judith and Brice were childhood sweethearts, and when they grew up and were married, Brice took a job in a pharmacy, and Judith obtained a graduate degree in psychotherapy in the hopes of setting up practice as a marriage counselor. But the only job Judith could find right away was a position with Wise Counsel, an organization that finds dates for millionaires. Now Judith was reared by her fanatically religious mother (Ella Joyce), and so she is quite naïve about worldly matters. In fact, Janice (Vanessa L. Williams), the head of Wise Counsel, and Ava (Kim Kardashian), one of Judith’s colleagues, are constantly criticizing her for the conservative way she dresses.
Judith thinks she is happily married, but recently Brice has committed a few unpardonable sins for a husband, and then at work she meets Harley Madison (Robbie Jones), a billionaire who may want to invest in Wise Counsel. From the time he walks through the door of the firm, Harley is attracted to Judith, and Janice, who is no fool, assigns her to take care of him. Of course a 3-year-old could figure out that Harley is everything Brice is not, and when he puts the moves on Judith, she finds him very hard to resist.
In the meantime, the pharmacy where Brice works hires Melinda (Brandy Norwood), a young woman who is on the run from her maniacally abusive ex-husband. One day when the guy wanders into the pharmacy, Melinda barely escapes being seen, and as soon as he leaves, she tells Brice that she has to quit and move on. Brice convinces her to stay by telling her he will protect her. How heavy duty is all this?
Will Harley finally seduce Judith? Will Brice find out that another guy wants his wife? Will Brice’s promise to protect Melinda lead to romantic involvement for him? Will Judith’s religious upbringing keep her on the straight and narrow path? Or will she say the hell with everything and descend into a life of sin? If you want to find out the answers to all of these questions, watch the film. Or if you don’t want to subject yourself to the agony, send me an email, and I’ll give you the answers.
“Temptation” is an embarrassingly shallow film despite a fairly decent performance by Smollett-Bell. And it was headed for a final score of zero until a plot twist I never saw coming dragged it kicking and screaming from the muck of complete obscurity into the realm of forgettable inferiority. It offers nothing original, and with one major exception near the end, all of it is completely predictable. But based upon Perry’s comments in the production notes, the film offers a deep look into marital problems.
“It’s about a woman who starts to get restless in her relationship and her choice to be with another man has a huge effect on the rest of her life. She goes on a journey — in her career and in her marriage — and she ends up in a very different place than she expected. This is definitely one of the most provocative movies — sexually and otherwise — that I’ve made. There are a lot of people who struggle in their relationships. They make bad choices about their marriages. They get divorced. And so many of them don’t step out of their situation and really think about the consequences of what they’re doing. This movie asks, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ It sends up a flag.”
Apparently a lot of moviegoers are saluting Perry’s flag because the film was third at the box office last week, and I really can’t understand why people flock to this guy’s movies. This one boasted a script that a third-grader could have written, and with the exception of Smollett-Bell’s performance, I thought the acting was generally pretty weak. I also found the constant repartee between Judith and Harley tediously repetitious. In fact, at one point I thought if he said, “If you were mine” one more time, I would completely lose my composure and begin screaming innovative obscenities.
You can watch a better soap than “Temptation” any day on television, and most Lifetime movies contain much more depth than this one does. However, because of the surprise in the story and the work of Smollett-Bell, who really makes us feel her character’s pain and confusion, I eschewed the temptation to award the film a goose egg, and it gets the final score of a generous four. Nevertheless, the best place for “Temptation” is in critics’ hell!