Yet another in the seemingly endless stream of romantic comedies flooding movie screens of late, Deliver Us From Eva is nowhere near as good as Two Weeks Notice or as bad as A Guy Thing. It’s more or less on the level of Maid in Manhattan, even sharing that film’s central flaw in that it outstays its welcome by a good 15 minutes.
That said, Eva is not a bad little movie, despite the over-familiarity of its plot and the ultimately tiresome way that it drags out its inevitable conclusion. Director/co-writer Gary Hardwick, in this his sophomore effort, shows a disarmingly playful style that keeps the film pleasant even when the story line bogs down in the startlingly predictable. Rapper-turned-actor LL Cool J as the character Ray doesn’t hold up on screen quite as well as his recent forerunners — he’s isn’t as beguiling a personality as Ice Cube nor as good an actor as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, though he makes for a nicely solid (in ever sense of the word) romantic lead, evidencing a good sense of humor about himself in the bargain. One might rightly wonder, however, about a scene in which LL sings with his co-star while riding around in a meat-delivery truck. Sweet Merciful King of Glory, if ever anyone wanted ammunition to further the suggestion that rap was invented to give recording careers to people who can’t sing, this is it!
The real treat — and one of the things that keeps Eva constantly watchable — is Gabrille Union (Abandon). She’s not only nice to look at, but she also possesses impeccable comic timing. Her Eva — despite the fact that, in accordance with the dictates of the genre, she turns out to be an OK person — is terrifyingly funny. Eva is not a person you’d care to know in real life, but from the safety of a theater seat she provides more than her share of laughs. Whether conducting a church choir with what can only be called grimly demonic intensity, intruding on her sisters’ love-lives or matter-of-factly informing a minister that she left a word out of a Bible verse (“I don’t suppose anyone noticed except me … and God, of course”), Union’s Eva is a preposterous delight.
Union isn’t bad when she thaws under Ray’s charms, but it’s the intensity of her original nasty incarnation that sticks with you. Sure, it’s The Taming of the Shrew in a new setting, but that part of the film is reasonably entertaining and more than usually “with it,” since the one thing Eva isn’t, by film’s end, is tamed.
But for all its charms and cinematic playfulness, the movie falters due to an unwieldy screenplay that not only plays too much by the numbers, but keeps dragging in plot points that are never explained — or that simply make no sense. Hands up, everyone who believes that Eva is going to be offered a high-echelon job as the chief health inspector in Chicago and then be given all the time in the world to decide whether or not to take it — much less that she will be able to turn down the job over Ray, and then it will still be waiting for her when things fall apart with him.
The film’s central premise — that Ray is hired by Eva’s brothers-in-law to distract her from meddling in their business — is all right in a bewhiskered conventional manner. That the $5,000 they’re paying him is going to serve as the down payment on a choice-looking piece of Los Angeles real estate, however, is just plain ludicrous. The worst of it, though, is simply the predictability of it all. Even the film’s occasional quirky flourishes — like starting off with Ray narrating his own funeral — are all too obvious. It’s the curse of the genre — something that can only be gotten around if the dialogue is good enough to make you forget that you’ve seen it all before. Otherwise, you end up with a movie that’s never more than harmlessly entertaining and adequate. And that’s the case with Eva — though I doubt the filmmaker was aiming so low.