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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Deliver Us from Eva

Posted By on Wed, Feb 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Evangeline Dandridge (Gabrielle Union, The Brothers) is hell on heels, a triple threat of brains, beauty and authority. For her three sisters, her word is gospel. She’s a jealous sister who will not have the love of men before that of family and she lords it over her sisters’ men as well.

The brothers set their minds to free themselves and their testicles from feminine bondage. Under Eva’s domination, the Dandridge women are wearing their “balls for earrings.” So they recruit Ray (LL Cool J, Kingdom Come), “a master playa,” as their Moses. His mission (if he chooses to accept it): Break through the “electrified fence with rabid pit bulls” around the “hole with an ice pump” where Eva’s heart should be; make her fall in love with him and lead her on an exodus out of town. “If he can get that woman, he’ll go down in the playa hall of fame,” they declare.

His end justified by any means necessary, Ray engages fudgesicle Eva like a romantic Machiavelli and Deliver Us from Eva sets off on a comic exodus toward manly freedom, stumbling across the desert that is black America’s particular battle of the sexes.

Of course, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Eva and Ray toe it almost like modern black versions of those icons of screwball comedy, Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Eva shoots her mouth off in a salvo of intellectual “$50 words.” Ray may not share the arsenal of her vocabulary, but — as sure as LL Cool J stands for “Ladies Love Cool James” — he’s smooth like Teflon.

Deliver Us from Eva’s romantic comedy plot has been done at least since Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. But hating on it for that is like dissing a blues song for only having three chords: It’s part of romantic comedy’s game, so don’t hate the players. Union’s virtuoso performance of expressions and gestures, and Cool J’s charisma play writer-director (and native Detroiter) Gary Hardwick’s characters as mostly flesh and blood.

But Hardwick misses more than a few beats. Unlike in a true ensemble plot like, say, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, his other characters are generally cardboard flat. Like Hardwick’s The Brothers, Deliver Us from Eva is both a black male fantasy and patriarchal nightmare about powerful black women that doesn’t quite deliver its romantic comedy goods.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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