Deliver Us From Eva
review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 7 February 2003
Eva (Gabrielle Union) first appears in Deliver Us
From Eva looking fierce. The camera pans across faces in a
church pew, folks attending a funeral, and then pauses on hers:
forbidding and focused. At this moment, narrator Ray (LL Cool J)
explains who she is: the woman who caused his death.
Before you get
to feeling too sorry for poor LL, consider that this is the first
scene in a romantic comedy co-written and directed by Gary Hardwick
(the man who made The Brothers). This means that the rumor of
Ray's death will be exaggerated, and that this fierce and
intimidating girl will be tamed (as in "shrew"). Deliver Us From
Eva, in other words, is predictable in the way that, say, How
to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, also opening this weekend, is
predictable. The journey to hetero-coupledom will be slightly rocky,
but it will be completed; the coupled members will feel better for
it and so will you.
begins with an introduction to Eva Dandridge. Beautiful, demanding,
and self-confident, she inspires women (in particular, her three
sisters) and terrifies men. Apparently, she's so intimidating that
the three men involved with the Dandridge sisters -- Kareenah
(Essence Atkins), Bethany (Robinne Lee), and Jacqui (Meagan Good) --
decide they must resort to extreme measures to contain her.
Eva has her
reasons, initially hinted at, then recalled at film's end as a kind
of she's-not-so-bad-after-all rationale for her dominance. Following
a car accident that killed their parents, eighteen-year-old Eva
looked after her three younger sisters: this made her hard-eyed,
ball-busting, and practical-minded; it also added to what appears to
be an already very low tolerance for error or fooling around. After
completing school and some waitressing gigs, she found her calling:
health inspector. Principled. Uncompromising. Scary. When Eva walks
into a kitchen and snaps on her white rubber gloves, everyone
and dedication would be fine except that Eva's tendency to dictate
doesn't stop there. The sisters' men -- Mike (Duane Martin), Tim
(Mel Jackson), and Darrell (Dartanyan Edmonds) -- are watching the
NFL playoffs on a big screen TV. Oh no, it's Book Club Night, and
the girls have raw vegetables and need to talk about Beloved.
And after discussing the book, Eva informs the men, they need to
watch the video. So the men, for all their feeble protesting and
even one attempt to put a foot down, are sent off to the nearest bar
with a big screen, where they're too short to get a good view of the
game. Truly, a bad situation.
agonizing over the ways she takes up her sisters' time and energy,
instructs them in their romantic affairs, and passes judgments on
their men, said men decide to call in a big gun: Ray. A
much-experienced and much-respected player who fully believes in the
lothario's credo ("Players first, women second"), he's also broke
enough that he's willing to date Eva for money (this owing not to
his lack of ambition or talent, but to the fact that he never wants
to stay with any job for more than a year: something to do with
spreading his love).
When the guys
approach Ray, he's wary. They whip out a photo, Eva glowering:
"She's cute," he offers, "But why's she scowling?" That, says Mike,
is her "sexy smirk." Oh no doubt, they all agree, this girl is
something else. Ray only takes the deal when, during one of his
temporary jobs -- delivering meat -- he spots her on the job. This
scene stages the film's general dynamic, that is, Ray watches Eva
through stacks of meat and carts, and she performs. Her routine is
dramatic, the restaurant owner begs for a little leeway. No way.
"Mama says," she bellows at the end of her tirade, "Clean it up!"
Ray smiles, hidden behind the meat. He's in.
she's-such-a-bitch scenes -- which include a flashback to a former
boyfriend-wannabe in total meltdown -- Gabrielle Union reveals a
completely wonderful comic timing, delivering lengthy putdown
barrages with deadly aim. And she's fearless in her
self-presentation: when she leads the church choir, she gyrates and
grimaces with a winning aplomb. Luckily, Union's jazz is matched by
LL Cool J's torso. And, he can act too, always helpful.
When Ray asks
Eva why she doesn't have a man, she answers with a challenge:
"Because I know the one thing that scares men to death. I know the
truth." And that is: men are afraid to be sincere and respectful of
women who know what they want. (Guess he'll have to show her.) When
they go on a first (disastrous) date, riding in his meat truck, they
share an adorable moment singing along with "Sweet Thing" on the
meat truck radio. This alone suggests that they will eventually come
together. That this resolution will involve compromise on both sides
makes it that much sweeter.
mechanics are undeniably creaky: the supporting characters do their
aggravating duty, including the requisite gay hairdresser and
boisterous you-go girlfriend (Kim Whitley) down at the hair salon
where Beth works. The others serve only to boost the principals: the
sisters are forgettable and the men are so flexible they make Ray,
also pretty flexible himself, look relatively macho (Tim wants a
baby, Darrell just likes to "cuddle," and Mike, the only one not
married to his girl, wants to move in, but meditating Beth feels
they aren't yet "spiritually" in tune).
And the script,
by James Iver Mattson, B.E. Brauner, and Hardwick, hits the usual
turns, with little in the way of innovation: there's a horseback
riding scene (Eva's test of her man), a dress-up for a major
function scene, a restaurant scene (the twist being that Eva won't
eat there for fear of being poisoned), the inevitable confession
scene, and the makeup scene where the couple is applauded by a crowd
of anonymous onlookers, on a sidewalk, no less. (Can someone please
make a romantic comedy that doesn't end with this scene?)
But while such
conventions are generally draggy, they also identify something
specific about this movie. Like Brown Sugar, Deliver Us
From Eva uses these conventions to reorient them to another
cultural moment and set of interests. Where previously, such general
dragginess has been owned by the white romantic comedy, now, black
characters can behave in equally culturally overdetermined ways.
And, LL Cool J changes his life to win his woman, also always
LL Cool J
James Iver Mattson
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult