American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"The Fighting Temptations" follows a formula in a kind of easygoing way, and you know it, but it generates so much good will and so many laughs that you don't really care. It's sort of a musical and sort of a first cousin of "Barbershop," and you can feel the audience just plain liking it. Although it represents Beyonce Knowles' first starring role, it's not in awe of her; it uses her in the story instead of just pushing her to the front of every shot, and she comes across as warm and sympathetic.
Cuba Gooding Jr., stars as Darrin, a New York ad executive with roots in the town of Montecarlo, Ga. His aunt Sally dies just as he's fired for falsifying his resume, and he returns home for a reading of the will, which leaves him $150,000 if he'll direct the church choir and get it into annual Gospel Explosion contest. With his credit cards maxed out and creditors on his trail, he stays in Georgia -- and gets involved in church politics involving Paulina (LaTanya Richardson), the church treasurer. She drove Darrin and his mother out of town 20 years ago by accusing the mother of being immoral because she sang in the local juke joint. Now she's Darrin's enemy, opposed to him leading the choir or perhaps even staying in town.
But he has good reasons to stay. Not just because his creditors are looking for him in New York, but because he's moonstruck by a local singer named Lilly (Beyonce Knowles). She was his childhood sweetheart, and now she may hold the key to the gospel competition -- and to his heart.
Darrin has his work cut out for him. The church choir is small and untalented, and his recruiting efforts are not successful. Steve Harvey plays the local DJ who reads his recruiting announcements -- which start out by specifying that no one need apply who smokes or drinks, and end by saying pretty much anyone, even a heathen, is welcome. There's a funny sequence involving a concert in the nearby prison; when the warden (Faizon Love) says he's got prisoners who can sing better than the choir, Darrin perks up, and before long three prisoners are singing in the choir, wearing their handcuffs and their Sunday best orange convict suits.