- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

The word on rappers-turned-actors is that they bring something raw to the big screen. Rapper-cum-actor LL Cool J adds plenty to "Deliver Us From Eva," namely a frame so stocky he makes Vin Diesel look as if he needs a protein shake.
That bulky build supplies an apt metaphor for this awkward, ill-fitting romantic comedy.
The erstwhile James Todd Smith is but one problem with this stilted farce. Just try to find a genuine emotion in this cauldron of dating cliches.
Director Gary Hardwick passably surveyed the gender gap in the 2001 buddy flick "The Brothers." Here, his touch is as jittery as an NBA rookie's.
The shrill cast of characters in "Eva" makes rooting for anyone a chore. The film's script, a collection of prepackaged sexual rants, makes sure no one will be rooting for love to prevail.
LL, cast in his first romantic lead, looks lost playing the ultimate "playa." Sure, his smile stretches impossibly wide below that Cab Calloway moustache but he lumbers through his scenes, his natural charisma muted.
Worse, the rapper falls back on the Rock's acting method: hoisting his eyebrow skyward as an all-purpose signifier covering a range of emotional responses. That's one busy eyebrow.
Besides, any comedy that begins with the lead character's funeral is asking for trouble. Unless its name is Sunset Boulevard.
Clearly, the film isn't intent on killing LL Cool J's character. Or is it? The tone changes so often it's anybody's guess what kind of film Mr. Hardwick wants.
We soon meet Eva Dandridge, a slick-talking, manipulative shrew who controls not only the lives of her three younger sisters, but also, indirectly, the men in their lives. The women don't make a move unless she approves it. The men are none too pleased with their plight.
Enter Ray (LL), the local Lothario, who just might be the guy to date and distract Eva, the fellas reason. They collect $5,000 and pay Ray for what seems like an impossible mission: making Eva fall for him.
Their first date is a debacle, but Ray isn't giving up and beneath Eva's malevolent exterior is a woman who just wants to live after years of taking care of her sisters.
You see, the Dandridge girls have a sad past. Their parents died in a car crash years ago, leaving Eva, the eldest, to serve as both mother and father. That doesn't make her malevolence much easier to stomach.
The assembled men are no prizes, either. The only reason they stay true to the Dandridge girls, they admit, is because of the girls' beauty.
Slipped between the creaky plot's cracks are scenes set at the local beauty parlor, where the inevitable effete stylist and libidinous older woman bray their opinions on dating and romance.
This isn't LL's first time before a camera. His resume includes a passel of films, plus a recurring television gig on UPN's "In the House" sitcom.
Here, his acting weaknesses are blown up larger than life, and no amount of rap braggadocio can cover them up. A more nuanced director might have effectively played his physical presence off Miss Union's cerebral jousting.
Eva's rants rarely seem natural, but instead the stuff of a writers meeting gone overtime. Miss Union, normally a warm, telegenic presence, must scowl her way through much of the action.
Amidst the stale stereotypes and predictable plot twists, "Eva" finds time for a mean-spirited final reel that makes its sticky-sweet resolution all the harder to stomach.
The talent behind "Eva" doesn't have the moxie to make this a true dark comedy. It tries to have it both ways but delivers on neither.

*1/2
TITLE: "Deliver Us From Eva"
RATING: R (Coarse language, sexual situations)
CREDITS: Directed by Gary Hardwick. Screenplay by Gary Hardwick, James Iver Mattson and B.E. Brauner.
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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