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Movie Review: Chemistry saves romantic 'Eva'

Friday, February 07, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The pun alone made me figure the movie "Deliver Us from Eva" portended yet another teen horror film, this one with a female slasher. Oops! It turns out to be a romantic comedy, and maybe that means I should deliver myself of preconceptions.

 
 
'DELIVER US FROM EVA'

RATING: R for sex-related dialogue

STARRING: Gabrielle Union, LL Cool J, Duane Martin

DIRECTOR: Gary Hardwick

Critic's call:

   
 

Even so, the male characters in the movie are scared silly by Eva (Gabrielle Union), who appears to them as a different type of monster.

Mike (Duane Martin), Tim (Mel Jackson) and Darrell (Dartanyan Edmonds) are each either married to or dating one of Eva's three beautiful sisters (Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee and Meagan Good). But Eva, the oldest of the Dandridge siblings, has been taking care of them since their parents died.

You could say Eva is overprotective. You could say Eva is uptight. You know what Eva thinks of men when she's slicing a cucumber while staring straight at one of the guys with fire in her eyes.

The fellows decide enough is enough and begin looking for the one playa capable of making this ice queen melt. When they see Ray (LL Cool J) turn a confrontation with his two current girlfriends into one big happy triangle, they figure he's the man.

Even Ray is intimidated by Eva at first. But the guys bribe him into carrying on. If you've seen enough middling romantic comedies, you can plot out the rest of the film with your eyes closed.

You probably don't want to do that because these are good-looking people, for the most part, and the two leads display a nice chemistry right down to their discreet bedroom scene. "Eva" brings us back to the upwardly mobile neighborhood and male-female tug of war of writer-director Gary Hardwick's first feature, "The Brothers."

But Hardwick proves every bit as manipulative as his title character. At the outset, when he wants us to dislike Eva, he has her evict the guys from the room where they're watching football even though she'd already agreed to hold her club meeting elsewhere. Mean-spirited and arbitrary, she shoves our sympathies to the other side.

But by film's end, when the tables have turned, Hardwick sends the guys so far over the line that it's hard for us to forgive them -- but then he asks us to believe that the women will.

Sometimes, he doesn't trust us enough to get even the obvious joke. When Eva is chopping the cucumber, we don't really need to see one of the guys imagining his emasculation in order to get the point.

The best part of the movie features Ray and Eva getting to know each other. He breaks through her reserve, allowing her to confide in him the factors that made her so combative and suspicious. Her grievances don't begin to explain her idiosyncrasies, but they go a long way to soften the character.

We don't learn so much about Ray's background, but his demeanor and his openness with Eva helps convince us he's a decent guy. As for Mike, Tim and Darrell, they increasingly turn into comic relief -- but not as hackneyed as the beauty parlor where the women hold their conclaves, complete with acerbic gay hairdresser and sassy, full-figured manhunter.

Fortunately, the easy charisma of Union and LL Cool J (who is also billed by his given name, James Todd Smith) carries us through the manifest script flaws of "Deliver Us from Eva." Beauty turns out to be not such a beast after all.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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