‘Temptation’: Charisma, wealth, flattery — Who could resist?

By ANDY WEBSTER

New York Times News Service – Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) with Harley (Robbie Jones) in Tyler Perry’s “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.”

3 1/2 (out of five stars)

Director: Tyler Perry

Cast: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams, Robbie Jones, Renee Taylor, Ella Joyce, Brandy Norwood

Rated: PG-13 for violence, sexuality and drug content

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

The actor, director and playwright Tyler Perry has long embraced religion in his films, but perhaps never more so than in his slack fable “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.” Adapted from his 2008 play, “The Marriage Counselor,” the movie inveighs against deviation from the church, monogamy and the righteous path of cooking meals for a husband.

The story is framed by a tale that a couples therapist imparts to a cheating wife. It concerns Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross), childhood friends in a small, golden-sepia Southern town who are destined for matrimony. As spouses, they live in Washington, where Brice works at a pharmacy and Judith at a high-class dating service owned by Janice (Vanessa Williams, using a broad French accent). Janice also employs the gold digger Ava (a grating, tone-deaf Kim Kardashian, entertaining for all the wrong reasons).

Janice introduces Judith to Harley (Robbie Jones), a dapper social-media magnate Janice covets as an investor. Judith, bored by the dutiful, spectacled Brice and feeling professionally stalled, is easy prey for Harley’s seductions. Soon he is plying her with flattery, Champagne, rides in his private jet and devil-red Ferrari and other sinful apples.

Brice is initially blind to Judith’s fall from grace (and departure from the kitchen), distracted by the gentle Melinda (Brandy Norwood, aka the R&B singer Brandy), a recent hire who is escaping an abusive boyfriend. But Judith’s mother, Sarah (Ella Joyce), a minister, knows. She admonishes her daughter, but even Sarah’s prayer group can’t save Judith from a cruel, heavy-handed lesson.

Limp pacing and countless shots of Washington’s skyline plague the narrative. Smollett-Bell exudes an earthy appeal, but it’s the charismatic Jones who steals the picture. Given all the stifling preachiness, that’s to be expected.