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Savaged by the critics, and grossing only $30M at the US box office, saying that this film was a disappointment is putting it mildly. It was never meant to be a big hit, but was nevertheless designed to capitalize on the then recent success of Barbershop 1 (2002). It had Cuba Jr. Gooding who was, and still is, hoping to recapture the success of his Oscar-winning role in Jerry Maguire (1996), and Beyoncé Knowles in her second movie role right on the heels of her success in Austin Powers 3, Goldmember (2002). It also features really good R&B and Gospel music galore. Finally, Director Jonathan Lynn has had a number of public successes such as Whole Nine Yards, The (2000) or My Cousin Vinny (1992). So, on paper, the film had many things going for it. What the studios did not expect was that this A- team ended up bungling the film.
Darrin Hill (Cuba Jr. Gooding) is a classic rags to riches story. Born in the south and raised by his single mom, he is now a successful young executive at a top ad agency in New York. That is, until he gets fired after his boss found out he lied all over the place on his resume. On the day he is fired, he received a letter informing him of the passing of his great aunt and that a large inheritance is awaiting him there. When he arrives though, he learns that there is a condition: he has to take over the church choir his great aunt ran and get it to enter the famed Gospel Explosion contest in Atlanta. Of course, the choir leaves a lot to be desired, and he almost gives up until he meets Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles), a "sinner" with a great voice.
The cast has a few really funny moments but overall, falls quite flat. Cuba Gooding Jr. seems to believe that the only way to be funny is to simple bounce around. Sometimes, he even ends up being so unfunny and mumbling his lines. Beyoncé Knowles is OK if unsurprising. She is gorgeous as usual, has a wonderful voice, and manages to have a great presence during the musical numbers. But outside of that, she remains pretty flat. The rest of the cast does its best, but ends up being either miscast, misused, or simply not clicking. The story is a complete stereotype and unfolds without any surprises. To be honest, if it weren't for the great musical numbers, the movie wouldn't have much to attract anyone as it is merely average.
See this film for a simple uncomplicated evening, and lower your expectations. It's not bad, but only when the music starts will your heart follow and your feet start toe-tapping. I wish there had been more of it, and that the writing and overall performances had been a tad better to bring this otherwise promising movie up to the level of good fun.
- Laurent Hasson