The film gets off to an intriguing start with an exuberant Motown-style musical credit sequence, cutting to the voiceover of Ray (LL Cool J) at his own funeral. The action jumps back six months to trace the events leading to his demise. At the center of the story is the eldest of the four beautiful Dandridge sisters, Eva (Gabrielle Union), who assumed the role of parent when they were orphaned. Her sibs (Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee and Meagan Good) are all grown up and in relationships, but Eva maintains a powerful hold on them, to the increasing distress of their partners. And no wonder: Eva is a condescending, critical virago who spews the kind of motormouth nastiness (with fine timing and a certain glee on Union's part) that will have audiences hissing. Desperate to get Eva out of their lives, the charmingly goofy trio (Duane Martin, Mel Jackson and Dartanyan Edmonds) hit upon the dubious scheme of setting her up with "master player" Ray, in hopes that she'll be too busy with romance to bother them. For $5,000 and expenses, he agrees to take on the challenge--and, no surprise, real sparks fly.
LL Cool J will set hearts throbbing in his first romantic leading role; he comes through with believable tenderness. But there's something pat about the pairing of womanizer-with-a-heart-of-gold and shrew-who-just-wants-to-loved. The story falters in its on-the-nose dialogue and in Eva's lightning-speed transformation from angry control freak to open-hearted lover. Hardwick's visual jokes, even when obvious, provide a welcome delirious force--e.g., after Eva interrupts her sister and husband in the bedroom, we see the two women slicing zucchini in the kitchen. There's also a vividly hued fantasyland of a beauty parlor where the girls go to dish--although more judicious use of these segments, with less time devoted to cliched sex talk, would have been more effective. The film's potential power lies in its jaunty combination of silliness and murderous rage. That potential is realized only intermittently, however, as "Deliver Us From Eva" lapses into conventional romance and plodding exposition. Starring LL Cool J, Gabrielle Union, Duane Martin, Essence Atkins, Robinne Lee, Meagan Good, Mel Jackson, Dartanyan Edmonds, Royale Watkins and Kym Whitley. Directed by Gary Hardwick. Written by James Iver Mattson, B.E. Brauner and Gary Hardwick. A Focus release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for sex-related dialogue. Running time: 105 min