Minor spoilers to follow.
Tyler Perry's Temptation is the kind of over-the-top drama that leaves you speechless as the credits abruptly begin to roll. Perry doesn't bother trying to cloak his morality tale with details like fully developed characters or insightful dialogue or logic. The heartbreaking story of Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is introduced by her marriage counselor sister as a warning to all young married woman who have their eyes on someone else. Judith was once a happily married woman who was led into temptation by an intense, rich man who promised to appreciate her in all the ways her husband didn't. Sounds fairly standard, right? Well… no.
Judith works as a therapist for a matchmaking service owned by Janice (Vanessa Williams), a glamorous older woman with a French accent who may or may not be running escorts on the side. Her coworker Ava is played by Kim Kardashian, a true feat of stunt casting that's only made all the more impressive by her inability to inject the slightest bit of emotion into her steady stream of insults. Judith has designs on starting her own practice as a marriage counselor but her husband Brice (Lance Gross) wants to wait until they get more settled. Her frustration comes into full flower soon after a young social media exec comes in to the office to strike up a deal with Janice. Harley (Robbie Jones) begins coming on to Judith almost immediately. At first, she finds it easy to resist. Brice is the only man she's ever been with - a detail that Harley finds amazing - and he's a good man, a sensible guy, and it probably doesn't hurt that he looks like a finely chiseled Greek god. But those perfect oblique muscles will only get him so far: after Brice forgets her birthday for the second year in a row and rejects her advances one night when she wants to get frisky in the kitchen, Harley starts looking a whole lot better.
A large chunk of the movie is spent on a somewhat boring back-and-forth between Harley and Judith, with some extraordinarily strange asides tossed in. For instance, singer and actress Brandy plays Brice's coworker Karen, a haunted young woman who's on the run from an abusive ex. (Did I mention Brice is an incredibly handsome pharmacist?) Their other coworker is an older woman who can be counted on to say something crazy about Valium or lesbians at any given time. You could get whiplash from how quickly the tone goes from comedy to high drama, but at some point the drama transmogrifies into sheer absurdity with a very nasty undertone.
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As you'd guess from the title, religion is a strong theme here, which is par for the course in Perry's films. It's very much a tale of good versus evil, and Perry is an Old Testament-style deity raining hellfire and brimstone down on his characters. It's not enough that they might be unhappy or heartbroken or full of regret, but they must pay dearly and cruelly. At the same time, religion is subject to the movie's tonal whims as well. Judith's mother Sarah (Ella Joyce) is a religious woman who raised her daughter in the church, but by the end of the movie, I wouldn't have been totally surprised to see her try to perform a full-on exorcism.
Besides the rather sadistic treatment of its characters, Temptation has an incredibly troubling scene that kicks off the last third of the movie, when things get really dark and mean. Judith and Harley are returning from a business trip to New Orleans on Harley's private jet. Judith got a makeover before she left (with help from Ava, naturally) and has been partaking of the many adult beverages NOLA has to offer. The flirting gets pretty steamy between them, but when Harley goes to touch and kiss her, she tries to stop him. She tells him no repeatedly and loudly and physically tries to defend herself. ''Now you can say you resisted,'' he tells her, and the scene fades into some sort of embrace. Later, Judith is shell-shocked and tells Harley she never wants to see him again. She goes to take a shower but stops to stare into the foggy mirror. She reflects back on the scene on the plane, but it's… a love scene? Really? I don't even know how to untangle this. There are so many ways to interpret this chain of events, and none of them are acceptable. Any sort of goodwill or patience I'd had for Temptation and its bizarro world disappeared with a poof.
Temptation is worth watching in the same way a movie like Nicholas Sparks' Safe Haven is worth watching: it's such an audaciously ridiculous movie that you have to see it for yourself.
[Photo Credit: KC Bailey/Lionsgate]