Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor - that's Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor to those of you who like clumsy titles to be even clumsier - and I won't say that this has anything to do with the fact that Kim Kardashian plays (okay "plays" is a strong word; "recites the lines that have been given to the character of" is better) a woman whose entire funcion consists of telling the protagonist how much prettier her clothes should be, and come on, why won't you subscribe to my plainly, objectively wonderful taste in clothes, anyway? WEAR MY CLOTHES! What I will say is that if TPT:COAMC was semi-consciously built to be an ad for Kardashian's brand, that is among the least-tacky things that the movie does.
As the title makes rampagingly obvious, Temptation is about marital infidelity: specifically, that of Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), introduced in a flashback as the cautionary tale told by a marriage counselor to one of her clients, who has been seeking solace from a boring marriage in the arms of a sexy stranger. This is very much the same thing that happened to Judith: after six years of marriage to childhood sweetheart Brice (Lance Gross), the 25-year-old is growing awfully weary of being ignored and taken for granted, and for being obliged to keep her dreams of becoming a marriage counselor in check while Brice plugs along, attempting to become a successful pharmacist. In the meantime, Judith is employed developing personality profiles for a matchmaking company for wealthy professionals, owned by the flamboyant French-accented Janice (Vanessa Williams), and it is in this capacity that she is thrown together with the smoking hot Harley (Robbie Jones), founder and owner of the third-largest social media platform to come along since Facebook. Which, when you need to qualify anything with that many words, it sounds a lot less impressive. But anyway, he is rich. And sexy. And sexually hungry, as he makes clear to Judith at ever possible turn, in conversations that are all variations on "I am dangerously unhinged about relationships, but boy, is the sex good, and it is my goal to have it with you. On my plane."
Fairly typical grounds for writer-director Tyler Perry (but not, alack, the star! The sassy black matron who gives Judith unheeded advice is, in this case, her mother Sarah, played by Ella Joyce), particularly given the unbelievably tedious harangue about morality that accompanies all of this: Judith's mother is a revivalist minister, y'see, and while the young woman has mostly thrown over her super-religious upbringing, she's got enough faith left that the mere phrase "I'm a Christian" is all the argument she thinks necessary to prove to Harley why she can't cheat on her husband. Given that Harley is more-or-less explicitly Satan, that might even work.
See, here's the problem: if I keep talking, I will make Temptation sound totally amazing, a new level in brazen insanity and psychotically big melodrama from a director who has at no point in his career ever held back anything. The last 30 minutes or so of the movie are vintage Perry, and exactly the madcap, histrionic stuff that I'd hoped for when I signed up: Harley, having finally seduced Judith, brings her down into his underworld of loud music and brightly colored lights and drugs and all kind of hedonistic behavior (favorite touch: the doorway to the club where Brice finds the illicit lovers canoodling is blocked by two dudes making out. Oh, Tyler). The way it's all staged, particularly the way that in multiple scenes, the whites of Judith's eyes are overlit, makes it look somewhat explicitly like an exorcism movie, which ties in nicely with Sarah's heightened rants about Harley being the devil, a role that he turns out to play with extremely glee.
And if we were only here to talk about the last 30 minutes, I'd be singing Temptation up to the stars: as a transcendent shitty movie, of course, but Perry's most enjoyable work tends to thread the "so bad it's good" line pretty neatly, and while my love for e.g. For Colored Girls or The Family That Preys is completely unironic, it's also because the films are infectiously overbaked, not because they are are good in any consistent, measurable way. The problem with Temptation is that the great movie comes at the back half of a stultifying hour-plus of watching an obvious psychopath-in-waiting attempt to seduce a stern, openly contemptuous woman of strong character, in scenes that all play out in exactly the same way. There are many problems with the opening two-thirds of Temptation; an infinity of problems. But the biggest is that it's immoderately boring.
In fact, it continues the trend of his latest work, in which his movies have slowly drifted from being gonzo personal statements to rather unlikable, conventionally bad movies: and Temptation might very well be the most mechanically deficient film he's ever written or directed. Brice is stuck in a weak subplot that ties melodramatically in at the end, but only after offering hours and hours of ghastly comic relief with stressfully wacky pharmacy owner Waco Chapman (Renée Taylor). Scenes close with thuds (there's a particular moment where Judith and Harley have a spat and then get into the elevator, as the doors close; not a single screenwriting teacher in the world would let a student get away with ending at that point. Either get out earlier, or continue the fight in the elevator; but for God's sake, don't act like the scene has ended with the promise of the most awkward elevator ride in human history. And that's just one example), there are lines of dialogue that sound like nothing a human being would say ("How was your third week?" asks Brice of his wife's new job, because apparently he only sees her on Fridays; "That's not make-up, it's make-down" says Kardashian's Ava, failing to land the insult because huh?), and uniformly poor performances - a particular shame, since the one constant of Perry's dramas (not so much his Madea-driven comedies) is that it offers top-notch black actresses plenty of big, showy work to demonstrate why it's insane that Hollywood won't give leading roles to anybody with a skin tone marginally off of creamy ivory, and Smollett-Bell is just plain lousy. Even Williams fails to manage the diva role, buried underneath a cartoon French accent.
And all of it rattling around inside a joyless harangue, one of the most bullying lectures about proper Christian behavior that the never-married Perry has ever stuck into a cinema screen. It takes about 10 minutes for the shape of the whole thing (minus the extremely ill-expressed but honestly unexpected wrap-up of the framing narrative) to become blindingly obvious, and that leaves us with scene after scene of "NO THIS IS HOW A FAITHFUL SEXLESS WIFE WOULD DO IT" shrieking, and it just will not move away from that one note. The result is probably not Perry's "worst" movie, but I truly suspect it might be the least-enjoyable.