The devil is in the details — or perhaps under the bed sheets — in Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor, a ludicrous marital drama-cum-morality play from contemporary black cinema’s most prolific multi-hyphenate.
Significantly lacking in star wattage (including Perry’s own), this sluggish, relentlessly downbeat portrait of a young couple in crisis should play well to Perry’s fanbase, but couldn’t draw anywhere near Madea-sized crowds at a very competitive Easter box office.
Like many of Perry’s films, this one originated as a stage play, though judging from the evidence onscreen, it’s hard to imagine it playing very far outside the dinner-theatre circuit. Framed as the titular “confession”, related by a marriage counsellor to her latest client, Temptation introduces childhood sweethearts Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross), married for several years and living in Washington, D.C., where Brice works as a pharmacist in a small family drugstore (run by Yiddishe Momme Renee Taylor, whom some may initially mistake for Perry himself in white face and drag).
Judith, meanwhile, holds one of the more fanciful jobs in recent movie memory: “inhouse therapist” for Janice (Vanessa Williams), a high-end matchmaker with a Pepe Le Pew accent and a devoted minion (Kim Kardashian) whose primary responsibility seems to be castigating Judith for her sensible shoes and discount-store couture. (“Is your fashion icon Delta stewardess?”)
As if credibility were not already stretched to the breaking point, it soon emerges that, for all her supposed insight into relationship compatibility, Judith is a nice Christian girl who’s never been with any man except Brice. Which makes her the perfect catnip for Harley (Robbie Jones), a social-media billionaire who comes calling ostensibly to invest in Janice’s company, but quickly makes a bigger bid to get Judith into the sack.
From there, Temptation takes a sharp right turn toward the smugly moralistic. Harley isn’t just a snake in Judith’s middle-class Eden. With his Internet billions, he promises to set her up in the private marriage counselling practice she’s always dreamed of, proves chivalrous (nearly pummelling a cyclist who accidentally runs into Judith in a park) where Brice cowardly, takes her for rides in his Ferrari and Rolls, and eventually entreats her on to his private plane — a one-way ticket to the Mile High Club.
But fret not: Like a subsequent bathroom tryst cloaked in enough steam for a three-alarm blaze, this encounter has been skillfully designed not to offend Perry’s churchgoing base or endanger his PG-13 rating.
Love of money is the root of all evil, don’t we know, because the Bible says so and because the notion of Judith being tempted by a rich guy who isn’t also a total idiot would be far too complex for Perry’s reductive universe. So, having attained his prize, Harley stands revealed as a sadistic bully luring Judith into a decadent underworld of very bad behavior (evidenced by a throbbing techno rave party that’s like Perry’s answer to the masked ball from Eyes Wide Shut).
Consistent with most of Perry’s films, craft contributions are adequate but undistinguished, with occasional overhead shots of metro D.C. adding a dollop of location flavour to otherwise obvious Georgia soundstage shooting.
— Scott Foundas
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