Oh, Tyler Perry's Temptation, where to begin? You were written in a single night, right? On Red Bulls and Adderall? Or during a fever dream with not just a Telenovela, but the worst Telenovela - whatever that would be - playing on double-speed in the background?
Please tell me I’m getting close.
That Temptation was made is confounding. That it was made by one of the most successful and recognizable filmmakers alive is terrifying.
Written with the sophistication of a Madlib, with the subtlety of a child throwing a tantrum at a strip-mall A&W ("but I want a large!!!"), Temptation is your least favorite Media Studies classmate’s student film at best.
Tyler Perry’s actors seem to be playing to an imaginary live audience. They face out toward the fourth wall, they speak broad, expository dialogue, and every giggle, scoff, and sigh is played grandly to the back of the theater.
Temptation tells the story of Judith, played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, an aspiring marriage counselor, married to her childhood sweetheart Brice (Lance Gross), but stuck working for high-powered match maker Janice (Vanessa Williams with an insane French accent).
Brice, for his part, is an extremely handsome and caring man whose big flaw is that his “dream job,” as the voiceover tells it, is to work at a pharmacy (that’s it Brice, aim for the stars). Which is why the couple moves from the rural South to DC, the pharmacy capital of the world!
When a smashingly handsome social media mogul with a jaw-line that could cut a better film named Harley (Robbie Jones) comes to Janice for help developing a matchmaking app, he is instantly taken with Judith.
The next hour of the film is spent with charming-if-blunt Harley courting the hopelessly dull and even more hopelessly disinterested Judith, despite knowing very well that she’s married. So we’re not rooting for him. Check.
That’s when the bluntest bit of filmmaking you may ever see is levied: a series of direct comparisons between the two men. We find out that Judith wants a protector, and shortly thereafter we see Brice acting completely rationally by simply ignoring a group of guys that cat-calls Judith. But Judith doesn’t like that, because that’s not protector-y.
But then, while on a jog with Harley, she accidentally collides with a cyclist. So Harley picks the cyclist up by the scruff, screams at him, and threatens to kick his cyclin' ass. Yay! Protector!
But despite his apparent insane temper, Harley is essentially a nice guy, until he just isn’t anymore. After he finally seduces by taking her on a private plane and talking a lot about his ex-girlfriend, the first of three switches flips: Harley, the charming guy with the jaw and the millions of dollars, is now, ever so suddenly, a crazed maniac with a harem of hoes and a severe drug addiction.
Switch #2 flips shortly thereafter, and with no real sense of time, motivation, consequence, character, or any of that boring filmy crap: Judith sucks too! Now she’s a crazed maniac with a severe drug addiction—and she’s one of the hoes! So we’re 2/3 of the way through the film, and we learn we’re not rooting for her. Check.
Okay, so we must be rooting for Brice, right? Handsome guy. His dream totally sucks but that’s okay, at least he’s nice. And he loves his wife. Well, enter switch three: Brice is a royal jerk. All he wants to do now is watch football. His wife leaves at night, doesn't return until the next afternoon, and he doesn’t even notice or care.
So we’re definitely not rooting for him. Check.
If we’re not rooting for any of the three main characters, what are we rooting for? Turns out we’re rooting for a small, harmless grease fire to erupt in the lobby of the theater so they stop the film, escort everyone out, and refund us our money.
Oh yeah, there’s also some Christian stuff, some HIV stuff, some Kim Kardashian yelling about clothes stuff, some Crazy Old White Lady stuff, some Brandy with Battered Woman Syndrome stuff, and a lot of other ridiculous stuff. And then there's the whole insane notion that Judith, the least equipped person to give anyone marriage advice, still wants to be a marriage counselor.
In the end, Temptation is a morality tale of the worst kind: One whose plot and characters are clumsily contorted to serve the moral. And worse, one whose moral is heavy-handed, affected, and insultingly simple. If you’re looking for a “don’t cheat” or “don’t do drugs” message, I’d suggest watching a 1980’s Health Class video instead of Temptation. It’ll be a lot shorter, and a lot less painful.