A modern-day, urban version of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," "Deliver Us From Eva" is the second romantic comedy of the week ("How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
" being the other) that revolves around a bet. The creaky conventions of such a story tell us that the person(s) involved in the bet start off trying to win somebody over as an assignment, but thensurprise, surprisefalls in love. And common knowledge tells us that when the other person finds out about the bet, they feel betrayed, have a bitter argument and break up, only to be won back in the final scene by their sympathetic ex, who has learned the error of his/her ways.
As with "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
," "Deliver Us from Eva" runs smoothly and likably until a maddeningly dumbed-down and cloying finale that sinks the entire film. And, as far as the Shakespeare source material goes, it was much more successfully updated in 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You
" (which, coincidentally, featured lead actress Gabrielle Union in a supporting role). Union (2000's "Bring It On
") and co-star LL Cool J (2002's "Rollerball
") have an easy, charismatic rapport, but their brightly shaded performances are lost in a screenplay that chooses sitcom-style plot developments over simple intelligence.
Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a stern, steely-edged healthy inspector who joyfully runs the lives of her younger sisters, Kareenah (Essence Atkins), Jacqui (Meagan Good), and Bethany (Robinne Lee). Their husbands and boyfriendsMike (Duane Martin), Tim (Mel Jackson), and Darrell (Dartanyan Edmonds)sick and tired of Eva butting into their lives, decide to hire smooth-talking player Ray (LL Cool J) for $5,000 to woo Eva and then intentionally drive her away (she has just been offered a job in Chicago). Before long, Ray has peeled away Eva's chilly demeanor to find a beautifully charming young woman whom he genuinely likes.
Directed by Gary Hardwick (2001's "The Brothers"), "Deliver Us from Eva" is surprisingly tolerable for its first 80 minutesa little rough around the edges with some awkward scene transitions, but modestly enjoyable. As Eva, Gabrielle Union is the star attraction, and the number-one reason to even consider seeing the film. Union's role is trickyshe has to outwardly seem like a scarily possessive control freak in the first half, and then reveal a charming softer side in the secondand she pulls it off with a sly sense of humor and a three-dimensional interior. LL Cool J, although having less to do, is a well-cast romantic foil as Ray. The subplots between the other three sisters and their partners is uninteresting, lazy, and would have been best had it been left on the cutting room floor. The actors are okay, but none of them manage to stand out or adequately humanize their roles.
That's when the end arrives, and James Iver Mattson, B. E. Brauner and Gary Hardwick derail their screenplay with a preposterous plot development and an unforgivably lame last scene. You know the kind: when a group of complete strangers miraculously show up to cheer on the rekindling romance of the protagonists, spouting off a few cutesy, cheeseball lines before the camera cranes upwards and the end credits roll. Watching this last act play out, how could anyone believe that it successfully remains truthful to the plot or its central romance (or, for that matter, to the real world)? Whatever time and interest the viewer has staked in the central relationship is lost by the clumsy mishandling of the climax. And if you believe that I have unfairly spoiled the ending of "Deliver Us From Eva," then you've obviously never seen a generic romantic comedy before in your life.