Music becomes the heartbeat of comic 'Fighting Temptations'

The likable comedy "The Fighting Temptations" has one big problem — it doesn't know when to stop, or when to keep going. Case in point: In a scene midway through the movie, a group of men in a small-town barbershop croon the Paul Simon tune "Loves Me Like a Rock." It's a terrific, toe-tapping moment, sung with heart and dash by the classic R&B group the O'Jays — and director Jonathan Lynn cuts abruptly out of it, halfway through the song, so as to go grocery shopping next door with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles. Um, what? Let the men sing!

The film, which will remind many of "Sister Act" minus the nuns, stars Gooding as Darren Hill, a fast-talker who returns home to Monte Carlo, Ga., for his aunt's funeral, only to learn that he must lead the church's gospel choir to success as her final wish. Trouble is, nobody in town can sing. No worries; there's those dudes at the barbershop, and the jazz-singing single mom (Knowles) down the street, and a handful of random convicts — and hey, some of those church ladies turn out to have pipes as free-spirited as their Sunday hats.

Movie review

"The Fighting Temptations," with Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps, LaTanya Richardson, Steve Harvey. Directed by Jonathan Lynn, from a screenplay by Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references. Several theaters.
It's all pleasant enough, if overlong, particularly in every scene involving the beautiful Knowles, who's almost too relaxed on screen. Her more-than-laid-back presence (she always seems as if she just woke up) is an odd match against the frenetic but agreeable Gooding, who shows much of his "Jerry Maguire" spark. Steve Harvey (of "The Original Kings of Comedy") is hilarious in a small role as the local radio announcer, suspiciously eyeing his ever-present cigarettes as if something nasty has sprouted on them.

But "The Fighting Temptations" exists for its rousing gospel soundtrack, which is at times so good that you can forgive the movie its flaws. Like the upcoming "The School of Rock," the movie is ultimately about how music can bring people together — an old tune, but one worth hearing.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or