“Temptation” pulls off the impossible: a far superior trailer than movie.
Tyler Perry tantalizes potential movie goers with attractive actors (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Vanessa Williams, Lance Gross and Robbie Jones), an age old love triangle and two jousting suitors hurtling angrily through a plate glass window in the preview.
“Temptation’s” has a great look and the acceptable premise of Hollywood love and fairy dust. But it simmers without a true boiling point.
What Perry does right is create an understandable romance of childhood sweethearts. With a religious upbringing and a loving mother, Judith (Smollett-Bell) has everything going for her including the single parent who can’t help but endorse a 16-year relationship with her boyfriend cum husband Brice (Gross).
When Judith marries Brice it is believable and right. She is beautiful, sweet and the focus of a doting and spiritual parent. Brice who made good on that crush that started at six years old (two peas in a pod leaps to mind) has proven without a doubt his commitment to Judith, her well-being and now, their life together. A whole community cast its vote and here, love seems sure as the sun coming up.
Then Perry starts to stumble.
After introducing Harley (Jones) using a horribly miscast (perhaps as an actress) Kim Kardashian (as Judith’s self-absorbed and superficial — ok, maybe not miscast — office mate), the story is skewed.
Harley is an uber-wealthy media honcho leveraging all the tools at his disposal to seduce the near virgin, Judith for sport.
But “Dangerous Liaisons” this is not.
It seems almost unfair and more than a bit sad, but this story in Perry’s hands isn’t even a cautionary tale. Harley with his great abs and chicken legs has enough wealth-based ego to think money makes him the better man. Judith’s small town naivete’ is clearly complicit here. And her undoing.
There is nothing redeemable about Harley or our Judith once she bites the apple.
Her horrific dismissal of Brice puts her squarely into monster territory — and way out of character. Perry asks the audience to believe that somehow “that” Judith was lurking beneath all along. Not likely.
But the real acting comes from Gross. His Brice erupts with the kind of heartbreak a meat cleaver to the heart from your lifelong lover might evoke.
Gross is unafraid to go, there. With open weeping and a river of tears. He makes us feel Brice’s devastation and disbelief and confusion and understand true pleading that in recoils only in the face of his lover’s cruel response.
It’s a left hand turn and a left hook. Brice couldn’t have seen it coming. But in Gross’s hands, weeping is manly and appropriate. We are witnessing a man truly capable of real love. There is nothing weak about it. Brandy Norwood provides fleeting comfort as his friend Melinda.
Judith on the other hand, takes the Harley candy like catnip and in an instant her upbringing becomes a distant memory flattened by cocaine, alcohol and great, though ultimately meaningless and unsafe sex.
Smollett-Bell (Friday Night Lights) is an actress with the requisite angles but Perry’s script gives her crumbs instead of dialogue filet. The transitions are poor, the writing uninspired and the outcome, a cautionary tale that maybe even looks in the wrong direction at the end.
(Spoiler alert) Perhaps the millionaire Harley going down publicly or legally for transmitting sexual diseases to partners who should know better would send a neat and original spike to the endgame here. Or Brice, clearly discovering that his taking love for granted helped a hairline fracture to emerge into a break.
On Saturday at the Regal Union Square, the show was sold out. Tyler Perry, indeed, has his fans but whether they tell enough of the posse’ to spend cash for this outing — is anyone’s guess.