Deliver Us from Eva

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The average person, you see, isn’t going to watch “Maid in Manhattan” AND “Two Weeks Notice” AND “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” AND “Deliver Us from Eva.” The average person, when faced with four romantic comedies being released within six weeks of each other, will see one, maybe two of them.

The movie critic, however, sees all of them. Hence it is the movie critic who grows tiredest the fastest of films in which people either hate each other or like each other but under false pretenses, and in which hilarity is supposed to ensue but almost never does. The movie critic has seen it all before — in this case, he has seen it three times in the past five weeks.

It is not the fault of “Deliver Us from Eva,” however, that there has been a slew of rom-coms in recent weeks. In fact, it is to be admired for being something that few films have found financial success at being: an African-American romantic comedy.

Alas, even without being a retread of other films, and even ignoring the glut in the marketplace, “Deliver Us from Eva” is still only slightly better than most of its kind. It avoids the template for a while, but by the end, it’s doing everything that every other film of its genre does, right down to the reconciliation that occurs in a public setting.

But it starts well. In narration, Ray (LL Cool J) tells us that he is dead. In fact, we are looking at his funeral. He shows us the three men who killed him, the three Dandridge sisters whom they are all either married to or dating, and the fourth Dandridge sister, Eva (Gabrielle Union), who Ray tells us is the one truly responsible for his demise.

Is this a promise of dark comedy? Are we to see a story that actually ends in the death of its protagonist? I will only refer you to my previous assertion that this film ultimately follows all the normal conventions of romantic comedies.

At any rate, we go back six months to before Ray ever met Eva. As eldest child, she looks out for her three sisters, who respect every word she says, especially when she’s dissing their husbands and boyfriends. Eva doesn’t like her sisters’ men, even though they’re pretty decent guys. Eva doesn’t seem to like anyone, in fact. She’s mean and shrewish, which in her line of work — she’s a health inspector — is a plus.

The men figure Eva needs a man of her own. They approach Ray, the smoothest player they know, and offer him $5,000 to woo Eva, get her to fall in love with him, whisk her off to another city, and then dump her. She’ll be far away and heartbroken, and no longer interfering in her sisters’ relationships. (If this plan sounds imbecilic, wait till you see the last 20 minutes of the film, which bring imbecility to a new level.)

Ray takes the challenge (and the money), but whoops, accidentally falls in love with Eva for real, and much backfiring occurs. Et cetera, et cetera.

Eva is such a relentless harpie for so much of the film that by the time she is turned pleasant by the love of a good man, it’s too little, too late. Our hatred for her is irreversible. That she elicits any sympathy from us whatsoever in the last act is a testament to Gabrielle Union’s bountiful charisma, and not to any writing or directing prowess on the part of Gary Hardwich (who also gave us “The Brothers,” 2001).

LL Cool J is silky smooth as ever as Ray, and an enormously likable lead. His three co-conspirators, Duane Martin, Mel Jackson and Dartanyan Edmonds, earn a few laughs, too.

On the other hand, Eva has a foul-mouthed beautician friend who talks about sex non-stop. She is played by Kim Whitley, who I thought was Jackee Harry from “227” the last time I saw her in a movie, too. I will probably think that again the next time she appears in something as well, and so on, forever. Anyway, point of the story, her character is vile and irrelevant.

When the film is on, it’s way on, delivering good laughs and a little deviation from the norm. But when it settles into its rut, churning out cliches like there’s no tomorrow, it is considerably less enjoyable. In a genre that is being beaten into the ground, this entry isn’t helping.

C+ (1 hr., 45 min.; R, a lot of vulgar dialogue, some profanity, some moderate sexuality.)

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