By Helena Andrews
— Confession? I actually like really bad movies. Film reviews and criticism, though valuable to those who enjoy thinking, aren't too helpful when you know going into the theater that once the lights go dim, you're in for something pretty dumb.
But boy, does Tyler Perry's latest effort -- Tyler Perry's "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" -- drop the limbo bar of bad to dangerous new lows, even for the most limber of fans.
Like most people who appreciate the art of cinema, I don't consider Perry's Ford factory of films anything resembling art. There's the Mona Lisa, and then there's that poster of black Jesus you picked out of a lineup on 125th Street. There's absolutely no critical comparison. But that doesn't mean you can't admire both. Same goes with Perry's entire big-screen canon, which, by existing almost entirely in its own Frankensteinian genre, can be measured only against itself.
But even for a Perry film, with its heavy melodrama, painfully obvious plot points, rigidly drawn stick-figure characters and heavy-handed Holy Ghost heroism, "Temptation" is more than slapstick; it's a slap in the face. Perry's proselytizing has gone from Grandma-approved to "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to see this movie."
For those who've managed to miss the monsoon of bad reviews, which thus far have been the best thing about this film, the plot is crazy-simple -- literally. Judith (played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a good Christian woman, unhappy in a boring marriage to her childhood sweetheart and unsatisfied in a dead-end job. But instead of articulating her legitimate feelings of discontent, Judith falls for a charming and successful drug-addicted sociopath, who seduces the former Miss Goody Two-Shoes with lines like "Sex should be random, like animals" and "It's very sexy how slow you're breathing."
Walking into the theater, I was more than prepared to settle in for a solid two hours of cathartic hate-watching after poring over some of the most inventive and entertaining film reviews I've read since "Gigli."
Roger Ebert had this to say: "Take one of those cheesy direct-to-video erotic thrillers from the early '90s that kept Tanya Roberts and Shannon Tweed in cigarette money, remove virtually all the erotic content and replace it with hard-core preachiness and a storyline that fans of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' would find to be trite and poorly developed and you have 'Tyler Perry's Temptation,' which sounds like the name of a designer fragrance and which does indeed stink."
According to the Los Angeles Times, "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."
And Avclub.com's review -- "Temptation is initially disappointingly straightforward, despite a framing device that essentially posits the film as the longest, craziest flashback since Pootie Tang" -- was only aided by the comments section, where readers competed to rename the film. "Tyler Perry Presents Tyler Perry in Tyler Perry's Tyler Perry: The Tyler Perry Story based on the novel 'Tyler Perry' by Tyler Perry" was my favorite.
The point is, I'd been warned and was still undeterred.
"Diary of a Mad Black Woman" remains one of my favorite films, not just one of my favorite Tyler Perry films, and in eight years and more than 10 big-screen productions since, I had been holding out hope that the writer-director-actor would return to that harmonious blend of campy fun and sweetness. But how quickly hope deflates when the best thing about your viewing experience is the mini pecan pie you managed to sneak in.
I was really excited for how bad "Temptation" was supposed to be, but instead of reveling in the ridiculousness of it all, I left wondering whether Perry actually watches his own movies. Does he realize that successful women are the victims of their own ambition in nearly every one of his films? Does he realize that doling out HIV diagnoses as punishment for baddies is an incredibly flawed storytelling device? Does he realize that passion and violent sexual aggression are not one and the same? Does he know that the kinds of stereotypical tropes in which he barters are self-hating at best and dangerous at worst?
So, as one character in "Temptation" asks, "How does this story end?"
Most people with eyes and ears are in agreement that Perry's films have been on a steady downward spiral of laziness. They're consistently panned by critics, and even hard-core Perryphiles are starting to see the light. The real question is, does Perry?
"Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" is currently showing at Carmike 10 in Cullman.
Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of "Bitch Is the New Black," a memoir in essays.