It's ''a movie of redemption,'' says Cuba Gooding Jr. But is he talking about his character or himself? For his latest starring role, the actor returns to the kind of character-driven comedy that won him an Oscar for ''Jerry Maguire.'' In other words, ''The Fighting Temptations'' is far from a third-rate ''Love Boat'' knockoff. So, before getting into the plot and all, we just have to ask, what's Gooding been thinking lately? ''Sometimes you make business decisions,'' he says about his roles in the widely reviled ''Boat Trip'' and ''Snow Dogs.'' ''But I don't want to pinpoint one specific genre, one specific role I'm good at. I keep my mind open to all kinds of films.''
To wit, the music-driven ''Temptations'' was a homecoming for Gooding, who grew up dancing in a churchgoing, musical household (his dad sings with R&B group the Main Ingredient). As a prevaricating New York ad exec, his character travels to Georgia, where he must lead a small-town gospel choir in order to cash in on an inheritance. The ragtag troupe includes an outcast single mom (Destiny's Child's Beyoncé Knowles) and the local barbershop group (the O'Jays). ''The music is part of the storytelling,'' says director Jonathan Lynn (''The Whole Nine Yards''), who shot the MTV-produced $40 million project in and around Atlanta last summer. As for his star, Lynn promises we'll see Gooding moving to several gospel tunes: ''He's a phenomenal dancer.'' Beats mushing.