Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Last Thing The Demographic Needs: Tyler Perry’s Temptation

The Good: Decent pacing? (Almost nothing)
The Bad: Unlikable characters, Ridiculously simple conflict, Terrible acting
The Basics: In what is supposed to be a taut sexual thriller, Tyler Perry presents black people as oversexed animals who consistently have no moral core.

I’ve never been one of those people who easily bought into Dr. Cosby’s logic that black entertainers who fail to portray blacks in a positive or progressive light are the bane of black culture. For almost all of American History, black culture has been anything but homogenous (the Civil Rights movement, for example, had both Dr. King and Malcolm X) and Cosby blaming Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor or rap music for the lack of respect blacks receive from whites is a gross oversimplification. In fact, I have eagerly adopted the philosophy that economic motivators unify Americans far more than ethnicity. So, it is not with a simplistic naïveté that I assert that Tyler Perry’s Temptation is easily the worst portrayal of blacks in years. For those who think it is degrading for Tyler Perry to prance around in drag, they have nothing on the way his characters are portrayed in Tyler Perry’s Temptation.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation would make any group of people look terrible, it just happens that Tyler Perry makes all of his characters black, which reflects poorly on the demographic. A very basic story of sexual obsession, Tyler Perry’s Temptation is populated by characters who talk a good game for love, fidelity, and faith, but are entirely lacking in their ability to stick with what they say they believe or feel. Had the film been cast with, for example, white Southern Baptists, the film would not seem at all shocking (whatwith the number of disgraced people of faith who are exposed as hypocrites), but it would have seemed somehow less offensive. Tyler Perry’s Temptation seems built on the stereotypes of black promiscuity, womanizing and spousal abuse without anything truly more complicated or original.

Judith married her high school boyfriend, Brice. Now, six years later, she feels he does not pay attention to her. He returns each day from his job at the pharmacy to neglect her and though she remembers the potential of the relationship, she feels he has stopped working on the relationship. Judith gets a new client at her work, a powerful and wealthy social media mogul named Harley. Harley begins hitting relentlessly on Judith and she is excited by his attention.

So, Judith has an affair on Brice with Harley and she quickly becomes obsessed with him. Harley, however, is a player and his initial attraction to her soon degenerates into physical assaults on Judith and complications in Brice and Judith’s marriage.

And it is virtually impossible to care. Tyler Perry’s Temptation has entirely unlikable characters who fall into entirely formulaic roles. The name is a bit of a misnomer: Tyler Perry’s Temptation is not about temptation. Surprisingly little of the film has to do with the emotion of temptation – the presence of a threat to a relationship, a tantalization, with the implication of resistance to that interference to the normal flow of the relationship – and instead it becomes a full-blown affair exceptionally quickly. But more than that, the tantalizing of Judith is presented as such an obvious dichotomy that there is no real dramatic tension to the film; from the moment Harley appears on screen, viewers know that he is going to get with Judith.

The spiraling of events that stem from the affair are thus equally predictable. I’m not saying that virtually every film focusing on relationships in the black community becomes a cheap retread of What’s Love Got To Do With It?, but the pattern of attraction, infidelity, and abuse is so obvious as to be disappointing.

At least as important is how the characters do not pop. Judith makes only paltry attempts to actually work on her marriage, which make her seem entirely unsympathetic. Brice is a hardworking guy who is presented as diligent and caring, even if he seems a bit distant after working.

None of the performers seem at all compelling or well-presented. Robbie Jones (Harley) is presented with an incredibly generic sense of person. He is the smoldering good looking guy who is supposed to be able to melt women with his eyes and given how Lance Gross looks comparable, it is hard to get the “overwhelming” sexual magnetism of Jones. This makes Judith seem cheap as opposed to tempted.

For her part, Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Judith in an uncompelling way. She and Jones have no real sexual chemistry; she reacts to him, but there is a stiffness to her performance that makes it seem like the actress is holding back, as opposed to the character having some moral reservations. Smollett-Bell presents nothing to make Judith appear original or incredible in any way. In fact, her performance is bland enough that it is hard to see what Harley sees in Judith . . . other than her looks. So, while Judith is supposed to be a smart professional, she is presented with the emotional intelligence of the average housewife who appears on The Jerry Springer Show.

Ultimately, Tyler Perry’s Temptation should be a flop, not just because of what it says about the characters in it (regardless of their ethnicity) but because the lackluster characters who are doing reprehensible things to one another fail to resonate because of insipid acting from performers who have so much more potential than they are given in this film.

For other films that explore issues within the black community, please check out my reviews of:
Something New
Four Brothers
A Family Thing
In The Heat Of The Night


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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