Saving Churches and Souls but Not Cuba Gooding's Career

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The Fighting Temptations
Directed by Jonathan Lynn
Paramount, opens September 19

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The Fighting Temptations is a workout for the psychic strainer; there's some real gold within the "hey, let's put on a show to save the church and along the way the soul of a decent man gone astray" by-the-bookster, if you can just strain out all the leaden Hollywoodisms. It may be the recasting of Revenge of the Nerdsin a pop gospel métier, where marginal types reinvent the wheel of collectivity; everybody gets a charming star quarter-turn, including Donell Jones as a silver-throated con. Or it may be the ongoing bizarrerie of the charming Cuba Gooding Jr.'s career, veering from Oscar dramas to ha'penny comedies to dog movies. He plays a poor boy who's been passing himself off as a refined prep school metropolite to win entry into society, even as he stays one step ahead of the creditors. You might remember when that movie was a tragedy called Six Degrees of Separation; it's a comedy now, perhaps because Gooding plays so deeply closeted not even the scriptwriter knows. As a result, he gets to woo and win Beyoncé Knowles, the local fallen woman. The camera loves Beyoncé, but her acting coach may harbor more ambivalence; if she could convert the imperious urgency of her best singing to screen presence, we might stop wishing Whitney would come back from her own private netherlands. She'll also have to do something about that nasty cola beverage haloing her every appearance the way gold leaf floated near Jesus throughout the Renaissance, if one is to believe the pictures.

 
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