Arts & Entertainment

Not giving in to ‘Temptation’

Robbie Jones and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in “Tyler Perry’s Temptation.’’
Robbie Jones and Jurnee Smollett-Bell in “Tyler Perry’s Temptation.’’Credit: KC Bailey/Lionsgate

Frank Capra, one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful directors of the 1930s, called his autobiography “The Name Above the Title.” Tyler Perry, not so critically acclaimed but definitely commercially successful, could call his “The Name in the Title.”

“Tyler Perry’s Temptation” wasn’t screened in advance for reviewers. Perry movies don’t need to be. They’re movies about middle-class African-Americans, a group otherwise ignored by Hollywood, and seeing that name in a title guarantees the interest of that group. Perry may be a niche filmmaker, but it’s a niche he has all to himself.

Perry’s movies are throwbacks, in being broadly comic, unashamedly melodramatic, or both. How unashamed? In nearly 50 years of moviegoing I have never — never, not once — seen a more flat-footedly bald-faced plot twist than the major one in “Temptation.”

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Perry’s movies break down into two categories: ones he writes and directs and acts in, and ones he just (“just”?) writes and directs. Perry doesn’t act in “Temptation.” That’s too bad, since his recurring character Madea — that very large, very opinionated elderly black woman — would have helped spice things up.

Childhood sweethearts Brice (Lance Gross) and Judith (an appealing Jurnee Smollett-Bell) have married and moved from the rural South to Washington, D.C. He works as a pharmacist. She’s just started as an executive at a high-end dating service. Vanessa Williams plays the boss (with a French accent, no less), and Kim Kardashian (no accent for her) plays a colleague. If this were “The Devil Wears Prada,” Kardashian would be Emily Blunt to Smollett-Bell’s Anne Hathaway. The devil? That would be Harley (Robbie Jones), a social-media tycoon, who shows up seeking the agency’s input for improving his site’s dating feature.

Pretty soon, the dating he’s interested in doesn’t involve the site. Brice has started taking Judith for granted — and the pickup truck he drives doesn’t stack up too well with Harley’s Testarossa convertible. Or, for that matter, his private jet. Temptation ensues. So does soap opera.

It’s a given that the amazing thing about Perry is productivity: more than a movie a year for over a decade, plus TV and videos and plays. A close second is how he can get away with being both slick (he adores gliding aerial shots of Washington monuments) and hokey. Put a Kardashian in the cast. Make social media a plot device. But that creaking sound you hear is plot machinery so contrived it would seem old-fashioned on a nickelodeon. Anachronism defines Tyler Perry’s niche almost as much as race does.

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