A "Taming of the Shrew"-inspired romantic comedy about three buddies who are so in love with three sisters that they bribe a local Lothario to romance the girls' foxy but man-less, meddling hellcat of an older sibling, "Deliver Us From Eva" is thick with unfulfilled promise.
Where there could be well-developed characters, there are empty caricatures of bossy black women and whipped black men instead. Where there should be smart comedy, there's a silly, sit-comy kidnapping scenario.
In under-thumb husband/boyfriend roles that good actors like Morris Chestnut or Terrence Howard could have added real substance to, "Eva" has cue-card-quality non-name players -- Mel Jackson (whose eyebrows move as much as his lips with every line delivery) and Dartanyan Edmonds (playing the kind of corn-row-coifed brother whose vocabulary doesn't extend much beyond the word "daaaaamn!").
And all of this is a shame because Shakespeare's story of love blossoming between an unstoppable force and a fixed object is ripe for modern urbanization -- and there's an appealing chemistry (not to mention stinging banter) between the movie's leads.
Gabrielle Union is alternately frightening and alluring as Eva, the gorgeous, daunting queen of cold shoulders who learned to be tough, protective and incredibly condescending in raising her three sisters after their parents died. LL Cool J makes a magnetic leading man as Ray, a magnetic ladies' man looking for the ultimate challenge. And the sparks that fly between them are the movie's saving grace. When they're alone together on screen, "Eva" shows unmistakable signs of sexy wit.
Although they're no Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (who made a wonderful film version of "Shrew" in 1967) or even Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger (who starred in the so-so teen adaptation "10 Things I Hate About You"), Union and Cool J keep their characters appealingly human in spite of some cartoonish personality traits and the dim-witted story that slowly build up around them.
As down-to-earth Ray, who drives his meat delivery truck on dates because he's saving for a house, finds himself truly falling for Eva, who makes a living as L.A.'s most feared restaurant health inspector, it throws a wrench in the plans of the sisters' husbands/boyfriends, who'd hoped to see Eva so broken hearted she'd move out of town just to get away from Ray.
This begets the picture's wholly contrived last act that involves an abduction and a Big Lie the men will get caught in -- leading to the same tiresome, misogynistic so-called happy-ending in which women forgive insincerely begging men for acting unforgivably stupid and take them back. Awww, ain't that romantic?
Co-writer and director Gary Hardwick resolved the plot of his last picture -- the chatty, disingenuous men-and-love dramedy "The Brothers" -- the same way. If the guy ever learns respect for women and dedicates himself to developing a little depth in his scripts, he might still write and direct a movie that doesn't shoot itself in the foot.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th February 2003
Box Office USA: $17.3M
Distributed by: USA Films
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 44%
Fresh: 36 Rotten: 46
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Gary Hardwick
Starring: LL Cool J as Raymond 'Ray' Adams, Gabrielle Union as Evangeline 'Eva' Dandrige, Kym Whitley as Ormandy, Meagan Good as Jacqui Dandrige, Duane Martin as Michael, Essence Atkins as Kareenah Dandridge
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