Deliver Us From Eva

2003, Movie, R, 105 mins


Sporting the best comedy title in recent memory, this Buppie brew featuring three harried men henpecked by their ladies' controlling big sister makes good on its old-fashioned, screwball premise. Eva Dandridge (the highly promising Gabrielle Union) is known variously as "the sister-in-law from Hell" and "the E word." Smooth and glossy as a gemstone and just as hard, she's a tough-as-her-polished-nails restaurant inspector for the Los Angeles Health Dept. Eva raised her three younger sisters after their parents died, and now that Kareenah (Essence Atkins) is a doctor, Bethany (Robinne Lee) runs a beauty salon and Jacqui (Meagan Good) is in college on a scholarship, they're all so grateful they don't see how their big sister's well-meaning meddling — backed by statistics, citations, chapter and verse — has made them Eva's mindless automatons. Single herself — no man can measure up, of course — the passive-aggressive Eva guilt-trips her sisters right down to how much sex they should have with their men. Buttoned-down Tim (Mel Jackson), cop Michael (Duane Martin) and postal-worker Darrell (Dartanyan Edmonds) are defiant but cowed; even street-talking Darrell gets as impotently exasperated as Daffy Duck in Eva's presence. Desperate to be rid of Eva, the trio eventually hits on an idea: Pay ladies man Ray Adams (longwindedly billed as "James Todd Smith, a.k.a. LL Cool J") to woo her. Then, when ramblin' Ray pulls up stakes and leaves town, as he inevitably does after a short while in one place, he'll take the smitten Eva with him, then dump her. Naturally, things don't go quite according to plan. Brisk and funny — imperious Eva is a priceless character — and filled with crackling turns-of-phrase, the fable-like film unfortunately suffers from an unnecessary, shoehorned subplot about a trust fund that adds a sour, mercenary undertone, and co-writer-director Gary Hardwick sometimes lets Eva's character slip from benevolent dictator into distasteful monster. In her opening scene, she's not bullying deserving targets but three nice, reasonable guys; later, Eva goes off on a psychotically abusive rant against Ray that goes well beyond the comic stereotype of the ball-busting sistah. It would have been nice if Hardwick had a bigger budget for retakes to work out some of the supporting actors' stiffness, but he does keep the story moving, finding the humor in characters caught up in their own machinations rather than cheap wisecracks. leave a comment --Frank Lovece

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