Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Robbie Jones star in "Tyler Perry's… (Lionsgate )
Say what you want about the man and his films, but Tyler Perry is nothing if not unshakably Tyler Perry. The air of self-assurance bordering on arrogance that wafts from movie after movie as he confidently delivers his specific blend of light comedy and heavy dramatic moralizing can be strangely admirable. If only all of us could know what we do so clearly.
In his latest film, whose full title is (deep breath) "Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor," he adapts his own stage play to the screen. There is nevertheless something almost bait-and-switch-y about the film, as the main advertising image of a pair of ripe, bright-red female lips sensually open, along with the much-vaunted casting of Kim Kardashian in a supporting role, make this appear from the outside that Perry has gone full-steamy, creating his version of an erotic melodrama. And in some way perhaps he has, though entirely on his own terms, disinterested in sex but entirely invested in cluck-clucking comeuppance.
Together since they were kids, twentysomething married couple Judith and Brice (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Lance Gross) move from the country to the city, where Judith has her head turned by a tech-rich playboy (Robbie Jones). Perry being Perry, a simple saga of infidelity isn't enough; there also has to be drug abuse, domestic abuse, general wickedness, a turn away from family and the church and, for good measure, the late-breaking threat of HIV infection to punish the promiscuous.
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For the record, Kardashian appears briefly in a handful of scenes as an office assistant without making much impression one way or another. Her character exists mostly to criticize the wardrobe of Judith, a bit of business that is, in typical Perry fashion, overplayed.
Perry's ongoing disinterest in improving as a filmmaker is now seemingly part of his unshakable belief in himself, his insistence on doing his thing his way. What should be a fun, sexy dance to Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" is awkwardly shot and cut, as if Perry needed to divert his own eyes. The film is nearly over and still using establishing shots of Washington, D.C., landmarks as if the audience somehow would forget where the film is set. A scene in which Gross whips off his eyeglasses to reveal perfectly painted-on movie tears seems an almost "Airplane!" level of purposeful ridiculousness.
As the audience was filing out from an opening-night public screening — Perry's films are by protocol not shown in advance to critics — playful shouts mimicking a climactic moment's exclamation of "Judith!" came from the crowd with a mixture of affection and derision that might well define the modern condition. (Perhaps the casting of the love-her/hate-her Kardashian had a deeper meaning after all?)
The copyright at the end of "Tyler Perry's Temptation" is credited to "Very Perry Films." But who else could it belong too?
'Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexuality and drug content
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: in wide release
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