×

Film Review: ‘Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor’

Perry's latest offers a sluggish, relentlessly downbeat portrait of a young couple in crisis

The devil is in the details — or perhaps under the bed sheets — in “Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor,” a ludicrous marital drama-cum-morality play from contemporary black cinema’s most prolific multihyphenate. Significantly lacking in star wattage (including Perry’s own), this sluggish, relentlessly downbeat portrait of a young couple in crisis should play well to Perry’s fanbase, but won’t draw anywhere near Madea-sized crowds at a very competitive Easter box office.

Like many of Perry’s films, this one originated as a stage play, though judging from the evidence onscreen, it’s hard to imagine it playing very far outside the dinner-theater circuit. Framed as the titular “confession,” related by a marriage counselor to her latest client, “Temptation” introduces childhood sweethearts Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Brice (Lance Gross), married for several years and living in Washington, D.C., where Brice works as a pharmacist in a small family drugstore (run by Yiddishe Momme Renee Taylor, whom some may initially mistake for Perry himself in whiteface and drag).

Judith, meanwhile, holds one of the more fanciful jobs in recent movie memory: “inhouse therapist” for Janice (Vanessa Williams), a high-end matchmaker with a Pepe Le Pew accent and a devoted minion (Kim Kardashian) whose primary responsibility seems to be castigating Judith for her sensible shoes and discount-store couture. (“Is your fashion icon Delta stewardess?”)

Popular on Variety

As if credibility were not already stretched to the breaking point, it soon emerges that, for all her supposed insight into relationship compatibility, Judith is a nice Christian girl who’s never been with any man except Brice. Which makes her the perfect catnip for Harley (Robbie Jones), a social-media billionaire who comes calling ostensibly to invest in Janice’s company, but quickly makes a bigger bid to get Judith into the sack.

From there, “Temptation” takes a sharp right turn toward the smugly moralistic. Harley isn’t just a snake in Judith’s middle-class Eden. With his Internet billions, he promises to set her up in the private marriage counseling practice she’s always dreamed of, proves chivalrous (nearly pummeling a cyclist who accidentally runs into Judith in a park) where Brice is cowardly, takes her for rides in his Ferrari and Rolls, and eventually entreats her on to his private plane — a one-way ticket to the Mile High Club. But fret not: Like a subsequent bathroom tryst cloaked in enough steam for a three-alarm blaze, this encounter has been skillfully designed not to offend Perry’s churchgoing base or endanger his PG-13 rating.

Love of money is the root of all evil, don’t we know, because the Bible says so and because the notion of Judith being tempted by a rich guy who isn’t also a total asshole would be far too complex for Perry’s reductive universe. So, having attained his prize, Harley stands revealed as a sadistic bully luring Judith into a decadent underworld of very bad behavior (evidenced by a throbbing techno rave party that’s like Perry’s answer to the masked ball from “Eyes Wide Shut”).

In the interest of padding the running time to nearly a full two hours, Perry also adds a second woman-in-distress subplot involving a mysterious new pharmacy assistant (Brandy Norwood) on the run from something — or someone — in her troubled past. Less mysterious is the true identity of the film’s unnamed narrator, who leaves the listener of her story suitably traumatized, but with no clear moral to take away, save perhaps: Listen to your mother and you won’t end up getting divorced, or getting an STD, or both.

Perry previously took on the subjects of marriage, infidelity and the hard work of sustaining relationships with far more nuance in his 2007 dramedy “Why Did I Get Married?,” in which the characters were reasonably three-dimensional and had some semblance of inner lives. Here, they’re mere puppets on Perry’s strings, and impossible roles for the actors. Gross, in particular, spends most of the movie projecting all the assertiveness of a teacup chihuahua, only to finally rise to the occasion when the script needs him to, his dearly beloved poised on the threshold of damnation. What more, really, can one say about a movie in which Kim Kardashian is the single most believable thing on screen?

Consistent with most of Perry’s films, craft contributions are adequate but undistinguished, with occasional overhead shots of metro D.C. adding a dollop of location flavor to otherwise obvious Georgia soundstage shooting.

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Reviewed at AMC Empire 25, New York, March 28, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 111 MIN.

A Lionsgate release presented with TPS of a TPS/Lionsgate production. Produced by Tyler Perry, Ozzie Areu, Paul Hall. Executive producers, Michael Paseornek, Mike Upton.

Directed, written by Tyler Perry, based on his stage play “The Marriage Counselor.” Camera (Deluxe color, HD, widescreen), Alexander Gruszynski; editor, Maysie Hoy; music, Aaron Zigman; music supervisor, Joel C. High; production designer, Eloise C. Stammerjohn; art director, Gentry L. Akens, II; set decorator, Dane Moore; costume designer, Johnetta Boone; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Chris Durfy; re-recording mixers, Joe Barnett, Marshall Garlington; assistant director, Chip Signore; second unit director, Paul Hall; casting, Kim Taylor-Coleman.

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

Film Review: 'Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor'

More Film

  • The Go Go's at Chicagofest in

    'The Go-Go's': Film Review

    In the terrific documentary “The Go-Go’s,” there’s a tasty clip of the band playing an early club gig in 1979, when they were part of the L.A. punk scene. They wear bushy black hair and pale white makeup (with rouge!), as if they were trying to be mannequin versions of Darby Crash, and they have [...]

  • A PERFECTLY NORMAL FAMILY

    Watch the Exclusive Trailer of Rotterdam/Goteborg Entry ‘A Perfectly Normal Family’

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the international trailer of the Danish film “A Perfectly Normal Family,” due to compete both at Rotterdam’s Big Screen Competition, and at Göteborg’s Nordic Film Competition. Malou Reyman’s debut feature has been a hot property for sales agent New Europe Film Sales, ever since it was sneak peeked [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life,' '1917' Shoot Past $100 Million

    Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are showing plenty of staying power at North American multiplexes with about $31 million for its second weekend, estimates showed Saturday. Sony’s third installment of the “Bad Boys” action comedy franchise is crossing the $100 million mark at the box office on Saturday, its ninth day of release, and will [...]

  • Dinner in America

    'Dinner in America': Film Review

    There are bits of “Repo Man,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and other literally or just philosophically “punk rock” cult comedies in the DNA of Adam Carter Rehmeier’s rude yet ingratiating “Dinner in America” — and mercifully none whatsoever here of his 2011 first feature “The Bunny Game,” a shrilly monotonous “extreme” horror for which all is now [...]

  • AtmosphereSundance Film Festival preperations, Park City,

    Sundance: Study Finds Lack of Inclusion at Film Festivals

    A study by the Time’s Up Foundation and USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has found that women and people of color are vastly underrepresented at film festivals worldwide. The new report, “Inclusion at Film Festivals,” examined the gender, race, and ethnicity of narrative film directors, film festival programmers, and executives from 2017-2019. The study was released [...]

  • Worth

    'Worth': Film Review

    As a child, when future TV host Fred Rogers would see scary images on the news, his mother would tell him, “Look for the heroes.” If Fred were a boy today, she’d add, “Look for Ken Feinberg.” Feinberg, the lawyer at the center of Sara Colangelo’s “Worth,” specializes in putting a price tag on human [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content