(Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers)
A few nights ago, I somehow managed to convince my BFF Evelyn to accompany me to see the latest film from Tyler Perry, Temptation.
Now, I know what you’re asking. Why did I want to see it? There’s a few reasons.
Tyler Perry is the most successful film director that I know next to nothing about. Prior to seeing Temptation, the extent of my exposure to Perry’s aesthetic was catching about 5 minutes of Madea Goes To Jail on Lifetime. (5 minutes was about all I could take.) Still, as a critic who occasionally mentions the auteur theory, I felt the need to experience at least one of Perry’s films for myself.
Secondly, I thought the commercials for Temptation were intriguing. Between all the smoldering glances and the portentous dialogue, Temptation looked like it would be a lot of fun.
Finally, Temptation has been getting such negative reviews that I simply knew I would have to see it eventually. Seriously, when a film is compared to The Room by more than one critic, I have to see it.
Before I get around to comparing him to Tommy Wiseau (who, for the uninformed, directed the so-bad-it’s-good classic The Room), I want to say a few good things about Tyler Perry.
1) Largely as a result of his own hard work, Tyler Perry has found a lot success in an industry that, historically, hasn’t been very accommodating to black filmmakers.
2) Although critically reviled, Tyler Perry’s films have provided a showcase for talented African-American performers who are usually ignored by mainstream, Hollywood filmmakers.
3) Tyler Perry’s films are also popular with an audience that is largely ignored by mainstream Hollywood filmmakers.
4) Despite his reputation for being an egotist, Tyler Perry was actually rather charming and humble when he introduced the clip for Precious at the 2010 Academy Awards.
That said, Tyler Perry’s Temptation is a bad, bad movie. At the same time, it’s also a lot of fun in much the same way that Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is fun. Much like Tommy Wiseau, Tyler Perry seems to have a better understanding of melodrama than reality. Much like The Room, you watch Temptation in utter amazement that someone not only wrote this crap but then directed it and released it. When Evelyn and I saw the film, the theater was deserted except for the two of us and that worked out perfectly because the only way to really enjoy Temptation is to yell back at the screen.
Judith (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who gives a good performance and deserves a better film) is married to Brice (Lance Gross), a hard-working, practical-minded pharmacist who loves his wife and has perhaps the sexiest abs ever seen on a movie screen. However, Brice often forgets Judith’s birthday and refuses to have sex anywhere other than a bedroom so we can all guess what’s going to happen, right?
Judith works as a therapist at a matchmaking agency that’s run by Janice (Vanessa L. Williams, whose amazingly bad French accent is explained in one of the few intentionally funny scenes to be found in this film). Among her co-workers is Ava. Ava is played by Kim Khardashian, who delivers her lines just as robotically as you would expect Kim Khardashian to deliver her lines in a Tyler Perry film. Evelyn and I especially had a fun time imitating the way that Kim described the character of Harley (played by Robbie Jones) as being “The. Largest. Social. Media. Inventor. Since. Zuck. Er. Berg.”
Harley claims that he wants to invest in Janice’s business but it soon becomes obvious that, despite having the second most sexist abs ever seen on a movie screen, Harley is actually the devil and he’s intent on seducing Judith. Harley taunts Judith for never having sex outside of a bedroom. (At this point, Evelyn yelled, “Girl, that man’s no good for you!”) Janice responds by attempting to have sex with Brice in the kitchen just to be rejected because, as Brice points out, that’s not what the kitchen is for. Soon, Janice is having steamy bathtub sex with Harley and snorting cocaine.
“Girl,” I said as I watched her descent into decadence, “you need to get Jesus in your life.” As anyone who knows me can tell you, I was being sarcastic so you can imagine my reaction when, one scene later, Judith is confronted by her mother (Ella Joyce) and a group of church ladies who have formed a prayer circle to pray for Judith’s soul. Say what you will about The Room, a prayer circle is one plot element that Tommy Wiseau left out of his epic.
While all this is going on, Brice has befriended Melinda (Brandy Norwood). Melinda is on the run from her ex-boyfriend. Not only did this boyfriend physically abuse her but he also infected her with HIV. Is there anybody out there who can’t guess who Melinda’s ex-boyfriend is?
Temptation is a film with a message and that message seems to be that straying from either marriage or the church will result in God punishing you with HIV. It reminded me of the type of horror stories that I used to hear when I was younger. These stories were always about some girl disobeying her parents, sneaking out at night, or lying in confession and either dying in a car accident or being forced into prostitution as a result. Interestingly enough, the story’s outrage was never directed towards the other driver or the pimp. The main message of these stories was that these terrible things would never have happened if only the girl hadn’t insisted on doubting authority or thinking for herself.
That seems to be the message of Temptation as well. If only Judith had been content to only have sex in the bedroom. If only Judith had been content to obey her husband and keep going to church. Instead, she had to wonder what it would be like to have sex in the kitchen and she just had to stop giving praise to the Lord. As a result of trusting the wrong man, both she and Melinda get HIV. Meanwhile, Brice is allowed to find love with a new, church-going woman. The film ends with sadder but finally wiser Judith going to church with her mother and the obvious message is that HIV was God’s way of reminding Judith not to stray in the future.
In some ways, Tyler Perry is lucky that Temptation is such an inept film because, otherwise, it would seriously be one of the most offensive films ever made.
However, it is such an inept, predictable, melodramatic, and overwritten film that, much like with The Room, Temptation almost becomes a work of outsider art. You watch fascinated that anyone could possibly share this film’s worldview. I recently caught a midnight showing of the Room and it was a lot of fun. I threw spoons across the theater and yelled at the screen. I have a feeling that, within the next few years, Tyler Perry’s Temptation will start to show up on the midnight circuit.
Hopefully, when it does, Evelyn and I will be able to catch a showing and join in with the entire audience as we shout, at the screen, “Girl, that man’s no good for you!”