When urban entertainment phenomenon Tyler Perry thumps his Bible, an entire demographic of underserved audience members usually responds. Mostly, it’s because he is bringing his (occasionally) hilarious drag act with him. However, with the failures of last fall’s Madea’s Witness Protection (it was profitable, if otherwise pathetic) and his attempted commercial crossover, Alex Cross, it’s easy to see the man’s Hollywood cachet dwindling. Still, with another three projects in the pipeline and a growing television empire, he’s in no danger of becoming culturally irrelevant — even if his latest offering, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor is one of his worst efforts to date.
Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross) were childhood sweethearts. They’ve married, moved from the “country” and now live in Washington D.C. He is a pharmacist working for an small, family owned operation. She is the therapist for a determined matchmaker named Janice (Vanessa Williams). One day, an internet billionaire named Harley (Robbie Jones) enters Judith’s life. While initially interested in helping her bitchy boss expand into the wide, wide world of web dating, it is clear he really has his sights set on her comely counselor. A few indiscretions later and Judith and Brice are on the rocks, Harley turns out to be a sadistic creep (surprise!), and a new worker at the pharmacy (Brandy Norwood) turns our weak-willed husband’s head.
Overlong, melodramatic, and doused in the kind of feeble fire and brimstone that only Perry can muster, Temptation will make any former fan feel guilty about enjoying the filmmaker’s past efforts. While it’s based on a stage play, it has none of the artist’s immediacy or fire. Even worse, he brings Kim Kardashian (as Williams’ assistant) and Renee Taylor (as Brice’s “boss”) into the mix, for added aggravation. While he usually comes up with something redeeming in his mannered morality plays, Temptation offers no such repose. Instead, we are stuck with characters who are one dimensional and dim, a narrative that could convolute a convolution, and lessons lifted directly from The Ten Commandments and its Biblical backdrop. Perry often inserts religion into his films in order to show its import in the everyday life of his viewers. Here, it moves beyond message into something akin to a sledgehammer.
It’s all allegorical gobbledygook, with Harley clearly representing Satanic seduction and everyone else pathetic players in this glorified Garden of Eden. We are supposed to see sins summed up in slipshop philosophizing while money and its making are championed as the perfect panache for a life of limited struggle. Judith and Brice are on the right track, but she can’t wait for him to grow a pair and provide what she wants. Our slick entrepreneur guarantees such easy advancement, which makes the tryst in a private jet (and the booty calls afterward) all the more emotionless. Indeed, Temptation is one of the few Perry films where the manipulation of its audience leads to yawns, not tears — and let’s not even discuss the beyond dumb denouements toward the end.
This turgid soap opera suggests that, without a certain gun-toting battleaxe to behave like a hate crime, Tyler Perry’s aesthetic is in danger of dying out. When he had Madea making fun of her foolish family members with lessons about life and love, we bought the cornball comedy because of its heart. Here, all we wind up with is a empty spot where said empathy used to be. Without it, Temptation tanks.