The film is notable for its soundtrack and ensemble cast. The film received mixed reviews upon release.
In the year 1980, a young boy named Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his mother, MaryAnn (Faith Evans), are run out of their hometown of Monte Carlo, Georgia, after MaryAnn is soon discovered to be singing secular music when she sings in a church choir also. Aunt Sally Walker (Ann Nesby), Darrin's great-aunt, attempts to defend MaryAnn but fails, and the church's pastor, Reverend Paul Lewis (Wendell Pierce), is too afraid of the other church members to let her stay. MaryAnn and Darrin are last seen on a bus saying goodbye to Aunt Sally, as they sadly wave to each other.
In 2003, Darrin has grown up to become a successful advertising executive in New York City with a bad habit of lying. His only true friend and secretary, Rosa Lopez (Lourdes Benedicto), does a good job at keeping his credit problems under control. However, Darrin has achieved so much under false pretenses, having faked his college degree and high school diploma and lied about being the son of a congressman. Eventually, his lies soon catch up with him and get him in trouble with his paranoid boss (Dakin Matthews) and Darrin loses his job. After being tracked down by a private investigator, Darrin soon finds out that Aunt Sally has died.
Darrin returns to his hometown of Monte Carlo, Georgia, and on the way, looks back on both comical and heartwarming memories of MaryAnn (who is later revealed to have died in a car accident when Darrin was a teenager) and the experiences they had together. When Darrin arrives, he finds a new friendship in Lucious (Mike Epps), the town's happy-go-lucky, womanizing cab driver. At Aunt Sally's funeral, Shirley Caesar makes a cameo appearance as a character who was an old friend of Sally and sings at the funeral. After the funeral, Darrin soon learns from the Reverend that Aunt Sally had stated in her will that he must direct the church choir and enter the annual "Gospel Explosion" competition and win the prize money of $10,000 and in doing so, will inherit Aunt Sally's stock in the company that produces the show which is currently worth $150,000.
Upon taking charge of the once-powerful choir, Darrin discovers that it has fallen into decline over the years, with only a handful of members remaining. He also faces opposition from Reverend Lewis's sister, Paulina Prickett (LaTanya Richardson), the church's high-strung and wicked treasurer, and the same woman who led the townspeople into driving Darrin and his mother out of Monte Carlo years before. Paulina holds a grudge against Darrin because of his mother and for "stealing" her spot as choir director, as she was next in line and had waited for years for Sally to pass away.
After several setbacks, Darrin eventually recruits many new members, most of which he does so by promising half of the competition's prize money to them (though he has no intention of paying anyone). He also reconnects with his childhood friend and crush Lilly (Beyoncé), who has faced ostracization from the townspeople similar to MaryAnn's, due to her being an R&B nightclub singer, and having a son, Dean, out of wedlock. Lilly, at first, refuses to join the choir as she is both disgusted by Darrin's romantic advances and because she doesn't want to put up with the townpeople's criticism of her, but with some assurance from Darrin, she ultimately relents and becomes the new lead singer of the choir, causing Paulina to quit in retaliation.
Several weeks later, Paulina reveals that Darrin forgot to enter the choir into the auditions on time. Luckily, the audition judge, Luther Washington (Faizon Love), who is also the town's prison warden, lets them perform in a show for his prisoners when their booked act cancels. Thanks to Lilly's beautiful looks and voice, the choir performs well and Washington lets them into the competition. Washington also lets Darrin borrow three convicts who can sing. The three convicts are Bee-Z Briggs, Lightfoot, and Mr. Johnson (T-Bone, Chris Cole, and Montell Jordan). After weeks of success, the choir has become more popular, as more people have joined both it and the church. Lilly starts to trust Darrin and develops romantic feelings for him as well. However, Paulina takes a message for Darrin in a phone call from Rosa and learns of his past troubles, and intends on exposing him the first chance she gets. The next afternoon at a church barbecue, Paulina deliberately reveals Darrin's secrets with a polite demeanor, in order to make herself look innocent. Lilly, furious and heartbroken about this, tells Darrin that she doesn't care what he does; she was only using him because he was using her, and the people whom he promised money to begin to panic.
Since Lilly wants nothing to do with him, Darrin decides to quit and returns to New York, where he has been offered his job back. However, when Darrin goes back and gets a new condo and a promotion, he comes to realize that none of these things mean anything without Lilly and the choir. Darrin quits his job and returns to Monte Carlo to reconcile with Lilly. The two then recruit Lucious and the Reverend and all of them rush down to the Gospel Explosion to join the choir for the performance.
When Darrin and Lilly arrive, Paulina tries to keep them out, citing that Darrin forfeited his inheritance when he left Monte Carlo. However, Reverend Lewis finally stands up to Paulina and calls her out for being a selfish, conniving, hypocritical individual. He then reveals to the choir that her husband, whom she previously had claimed was deceased, is alive and remarried to a better woman. Lilly scolds Paulina for insulting Sally's will and wishes, which gave Darrin the choir. They manage to convince the others to vote Paulina out of the choir, giving Darrin his position as director back. Before their performance begins, Darrin tells Lilly that she inspired him to name the choir The Fighting Temptations.
After an outstanding performance, the choir wins the competition, but before ending his acceptance speech, Darrin starts a proper relationship with Lilly by surprising her with an unexpected marriage proposal, to which she accepts. Eighteen months later, the two are shown to be happily married with a baby of their own. In addition, the church is about to undergo an expansion, and a reformed Paulina rejoins the choir, having become more open to those who join.Cameos
Shirley Caesar as Herself
The Blind Boys of Alabama as Themselves
Mary Mary as Themselves
Ramiyah as Themselves
Donnie McClurkin as Judge of Gospel Explosion (Himself)
Yolanda Adams as Judge of Gospel Explosion (Herself)
Daphne Duplaix as Tiffany, Darrin's girlfriend
The film crew used several locations throughout Georgia. The final scene was filmed in Columbus, GA at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. Several of the extras were local residents of Columbus, GA.
The music of the film received universal acclaim, most notably, Beyoncé's cover of "Fever".
However, the film itself received generally mixed reviews upon its release. The film was criticized for its allegedly poor dialogue, rehashed premise and romantic chemistry between the film's lead actors (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyoncé) as well as their noticeable age difference. Despite the mixed reviews the film opened at #2. Notably, Ebert & Roeper reviewed the film and Roger Ebert gave it thumbs up, while Richard Roeper gave it thumbs down. It holds a 42% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The movie was a minor success at the box office, with a worldwide gross of US$32,445,215 but failed to produce enough revenue for a second installment to go into production (though the primary actors had signed on for one).
However, the cast themselves were very pleased with the film, citing its uplifting story and soundtrack. Gooding has confessed in several interviews following the film's release that he enjoyed filming his kissing scenes with Beyoncé. In a 2011 interview on The Late Late Show, Gooding made a humorous reference to this by saying: (In the false words of the host) "Didn't he make love with Beyoncé on the set of something?".
A soundtrack accompanied the film and was released by Sony on September 9, 2003 prior to the film itself. The soundtrack received generally positive reviews and was more successful than the film itself. Only one song from the album, "Summertime", is not included in the movie. The late R&B legend Luther Vandross also recorded a song for the film called "Shine" but it failed to make the final cut of the film as well as the soundtrack. The most obvious reference to this is the fact that Vandross frequently says the title of the film in the song. The song "Come Back Home" appears in the film, but was not included on the soundtrack album. It also noted that several other songs performed during the movie including "Church Is in Mourning (Aunt Sally's Funeral Tribute)" by Shirley Caesar, "Won't Ever Change" by Mary Mary, "Waiting" by Ramiyah, and "Soldier" by The Blind Boys of Alabama, were also not included on the soundtrack.
- "Fighting Temptation" — Beyoncé, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte and Free
- "I Know" — Destiny's Child
- "Rain Down" — Eddie Levert Sr. and Angie Stone
- "To da River" — T-Bone, Lil Zane, and Montell Jordan
- "I'm Getting Ready" — Ann Nesby
- "The Stone" — Shirley Caesar and Ann Nesby
- "Heaven Knows" — Faith Evans
- "Fever" — Beyoncé
- "Everything I Do" — Beyoncé and Bilal
- "Loves Me Like a Rock" — The O'Jays
- "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" — Beyoncé
- "He Still Loves Me" — Walter Williams Sr. and Beyoncé
- "Time to Come Home" — Beyoncé, Melba Moore, and Angie Stone
- "Don't Fight the Feeling" — Solange and Papa Reu
- "Summertime" — Beyoncé (feat. P. Diddy) (Note: This is the only song that does not appear in the film)
The film was released on VHS and DVD on February 3, 2004. While there is a high-definition digital release, it has yet to be released on Blu-ray Disc as of 2017.
In a 2003 interview with Mickey Jones, (who had a supporting role in the film), for HollywoodJesus.com, he stated that he hoped the film performed well because all of the principal actors had signed on for a sequel.
In 2016 singer-songwriter Belle Nuru announced that a script had been completed for the film and that she had signed on for the lead female role, along with acting as a producer. According to Nuru, the film will feature a whole new cast and only have loose connections to the original.