The thing that made Tyler Perry rich is much in evidence in Tyler Perry's Temptation. It was called Confessions of a Marriage Counselor when he toured with it onstage.
Madea, Perry's in-drag alter ego, is not here. But the women are beautiful, serious about clothes, makeup, hair and church.
Older women are "Wise Councils," the name of a female-centric church in the movie. And they typically get all the funny, sometimes profane, always "you listen to me, child" lines.
The men are shirtless, rapacious heels, or sensitive pretty-boy disappointments. That doesn't matter, as these movies are first and foremost "chick flicks": sermonettes about relationships, deserving more and eventually getting it.
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The women, I mean.
But Temptation, which opened last week but was not screened in advance for critics, is a cautionary tale about wanting what you don't have. Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the marriage counselor at the heart of it, is young, gorgeous, in a glamorous job with a high-end Washington dating service. She married her childhood sweetheart (Lance Gross), who is a serious stiff — looking at goals 10 to 15 years down the road.
The Internet tycoon who might invest in the marriage counselor's business? He (Robbie Jones) has money, confidence and "unsafe sex" written all over him. Meanwhile, the husband might be tempted by a secretive and cowering new cashier (Brandy Norwood) at his pharmacy,
Ella Joyce, as Judith's preacher- mother, has the "Madea" role: sassy, testy and all-wise.
Perry clumsily frames this story as a tale a counselor (Candice Coke) tells a young woman who's thinking of cheating on her husband. The timing of the comic moments is off, and the film drags and drags before reaching a conclusion you can see from a mile off.
The quartet of leads is blander than bland. The "temptation" of the title is a come-on and a false promise. How "tempting" can a movie about cheating be with a PG-13 rating?
Casting Norwood, a vapid Kim Kardashian as a shallow, judgmental colleague in the dating service, and Vanessa Williams as the boss of that service suggests that Perry is drawn to women who have been victims of the media (and of men), from time to time.
But the filmmaker has points to make, about wealth and the allure of the new.
"There's nothing wrong with being rich and having nice things — so long as the nice things don't own you."
"We become a lot of different people before we settle into who we are."
With homilies like that, I expected Perry to get into the talk show/advice game, until Steve Harvey leaped at that. But cranking out two formulaic movies like this a year show the Atlanta mogul's true ambition: replacing all those soap operas TV is canceling, two hours at a time.
'Tyler Perry's Temptation'
PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content. Lionsgate. 1:51. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Movie Tavern, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.