While Tyler Perry’s five previous “serious” movies (that is to say, those that do not star Madea) contained no shortage of melodramatic plot developments—each boasts an amount comparable to that of an entire season of the average soap opera—“Temptation” marks the filmmaker’s first attempt at an all-encompassing, big twist. He fails miserably. Any viewer with half a brain will see this game-changing revelation coming at least 45 minutes before it arrives, rendering the second half of the film an insufferable slog toward the inevitable. “Temptation” is a so-called erotic thriller with few thrills to offer.
The laboriously predictable nature of “Temptation” is especially unfortunate because the film’s third-act surprise is so utterly batshit—if you thought the finale of last month’s “Safe Haven” was loopy, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet—that it would have been captivatingly shocking had it come out of left field. (That we’re able to foresee such an outrageous twist is a sign of how severely Perry over-telegraphs it.) No one would have mistaken “Temptation” for an accomplished genre piece had Perry been able to keep a lid on the plot’s secret, but it at least would have offered one of the more enjoyable “WTF!?” climaxes in recent cinema.
The initial setup is admittedly entertaining if you enjoy Perry’s usual cheap theatrics (count me among the few critics who do). Young professional Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Ball) is bored by her both her job—she’s a psychology grad who dreams of opening up her own practice, but can only find work as a consultant at a matchmaking company–and her marriage to childhood-sweetheart Brice (Lance Gross). Enter Harley (Robbie Jones), “the third largest social media inventor since Zuckerberg,” or so we’re told by the office receptionist (Kim Kardashian, proving that the acting she does on her “reality” series is not the worst she is capable of). Harley is looking to close a business deal with Judith’s boss (Vanessa Williams, sporting a ridiculous French accent), but when he meets Judith, his mind turns to lust.
And so Judith and Harley set out on the road to an affair: she wrestles with her competing desires to feel passion again and to remain a good Christian wife, while he mostly just prances around shirtless and establishes himself as an all-around irresistible seducer. We’ve seen this before—especially in soap operas—but Smollett-Ball and Jones sell the material, and Perry has a knack for expressing carnal desire onscreen.
Then, less than an hour into “Temptation,” it becomes patently obvious where this is all headed. There’s a subplot involving an abused young woman (Brandy Norwood) who works with Brice that’s too prominent to be a random diversion, putting us on high alert for hints about its connection to the larger narrative of Judith and Harley’s affair. Perry delivers such hints in spades, and as a result, “Temptation” becomes little more than a waiting game of a movie. No longer does the central taboo relationship pack any melodramatic spontaneity, for we are acutely aware of its doomed destination. Even when Perry gets there in more ludicrous ways than expected—could cocaine get any nastier?—the effect is muted.
Perry has carved out a loyal following of devout fans who will seemingly show up for anything he slaps his name on—in addition to delivering several amusing comedies, he owes this to being one of very few African-American voices in cinema—and one can’t help but wonder if reliable box office returns have made him care less about quality. “Temptation”’s biggest problem is clear and could have easily been fixed in the editing room. But Perry, likely already hard at work on his next projects when this one was being cut (he has two more features filming now, plus TV and theater) apparently couldn’t be bothered to address the issue, no matter how glaring.