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"DELIVER US FROM EVA"
(2003) (Gabrielle Union, LL Cool J) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: Several men hire a ladies man to distract and get their meddlesome and perfectionist sister-in-law out of their lives by making her fall for him.
PLOT:
Tim (MEL JACKSON), Darrell (DARTANYAN EDMONDS) and Mike (DUANE MARTIN) may have good tastes in women, but their marriages and engagement to the Dandridge sisters -- Kareenah (ESSENCE ATKINS), Jacqui (MEAGAN GOOD) and Bethany (ROBINNE LEE) respectively - are not as fulfilling or enjoyable as they'd like.

That's because the women's older sister, Eva (GABRIELLE UNION), is as uncompromising with her opinion of those men as she is with her job as a restaurant health inspector. Accordingly, the men hire delivery driver and near legendary ladies man Ray Adams (LL COOL J) to make Eva fall for him and thus get her out of their lives.

Ray is reluctant, but needs the money and thus agrees to the $5,000 arrangement. Yet, as he puts his plan into motion, little does he or anyone else realize the ramifications of getting involved with Eva and having her fall for him and vice-versa.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When it comes to romantic relationships, there are both internal and external forces that often seem to conspire against such pairings. At younger ages, parents and/or younger siblings are usually the ones who seem to get in the way and not allow any private time. Later in life, careers, younger members of the opposite sex or preexisting children become the obstacles. In older age it's, well, old age as well as grown children who don't like the idea of mom or pop being romantic, let alone with another person.

In the latest romantic comedy, "Deliver Us From Eva," it's a meddlesome, harpy-like older sister who's making life a living hell for three men who are married or engaged to her younger siblings. Taking a cue from the Bard's "The Taming of the Shrew," they then set out to get her romantically involved and thus less preoccupied with their lives and relationships with her sisters. The result is an occasionally amusing but frustrating, annoying and increasingly slipshod romantic comedy that never lives up to its potential, no matter however limited that might be.

As written by director Gary Hardwick ("The Brothers") and co-writers James Iver Mattson and B.E. Brauner (both making their debut), the film starts off in the unlikely setting of a funeral. Since the departed speaks to us via voice-over narration, we immediately recognize that the film isn't taking itself seriously (and the various goofy imagined scenes reinforce that observation).

We're soon time-traveling back to six months earlier where the real story begins. Naturally, our interest is supposed to be piqued by the mystery of what could have led up to that introduction. Yet, the filmmakers end up distracting us with the appearance of the shrill title character and the various stereotypes - uh, people - in her life.

They're obviously supposed to be funny - and to some viewers they might be - but the writing behind them and the subsequent performances of them leaves more than a bit to be desired. Eva is supposed to be something of a comedic villain (at least in the eyes of the emasculated men) and thus exudes exaggerated behavior, all the better for the viewer to watch her comeuppance.

Yet, the filmmakers want to have their cake and eat it too by having such a portrayal, but then also turning the character into a "real" person with feelings, etc. The problem with that is twofold. First, the portrayal of her by Gabrielle Union ("Two Can Play That Game," "Bring It On") doesn't go far enough to make her an over-the-top Cruella De Vil type creation.

Instead, she comes off as an irritating character played in an unrealistically and increasingly annoying and exaggerated fashion. Then there's the fact that the segue to her becoming a better person (who we're supposed to care about) feels forced and contrived, leaving the viewer unsure of how they're supposed to view her. The story tries to solve that issue by stating that she's just been protective of her sisters since their parents' deaths, but that doesn't remedy the problem.

It doesn't help matters that the men's plan to get a ladies man to make her fall for him and then have him dump her doesn't make much sense, or that the developments follow a predictable path. The latter is to be expected with this genre, but the former only gives things more of a muddled, missed opportunity feel.

Playing opposite the lead, LL Cool J ("Rollerball," "Kingdom Come") has the right look and demeanor for the part of the charming playboy. Unfortunately, he can't overcome that predictability or the fact that the chemistry between his and Union's characters isn't exactly palpable.

The rest of the characters -- Dartanyan Edmonds ("Woo," "Ride"), Duane Martin ("Any Given Sunday," "Woo") and Mel Jackson ("Dancing in September," "Soul Food") on the men's side and Essence Atkins ("How High"), Meagan Good ("Biker Boyz," "3 Strikes") and Robinne Lee ("National Security," "Hav Plenty") as the protagonist's sisters aren't much more than one-note creations.

As a result, they're instantly forgettable and are pretty much interchangeable with the others within their gender. A few other characters - such as a flamboyant hairdresser played by Kim Whitley ("Baby Boy," "Next Friday") -- are present to add some "color" to the proceedings, but they generate few laughs.

Playing like a sitcom with bad timing, missed opportunities from both sides of the battle, a ludicrous and labored third act and not enough romance or comedy, this romantic comedy may appeal to those who prefer racier installments of the genre. For everyone else, though, it's likely to come off as yet another misfired effort. "Deliver Us From Eva" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed January 22, 2003 / Posted February 7, 2003


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