Director Charles Stone III and writer Patrick Gilfillan's dark tale of a mother, Lila (Viola Davis), trying to avenge the drive-by murder of her 18-year-old son, begins with an absorbing premise, but falters in its execution. An excellent cast is put to the task of making sense of a script full of flaws.
Following Stephon's (Aml Ameen) death, Lila joins a support group for women who have lost children to violence. There she meets Eve (Jennifer Lopez) a no-nonsense single mother whose little girl was also murdered. Together they conspire to track the drug dealers responsible for Stephon's killing.
Unsuspecting, "Lila & Eve" turns very violent very soon. These two women mean business, and before the audience can grasp their intentions, a young hoodlum is dead, with more to come.
I am not opposed to violence, and I'm sure many will applaud Lila and Eve's actions, but with the prolific street violence suffered in cities this summer, Chicago especially, I am not sure a film about mothers tracking vicious gang bangers is such a great idea, specifically since there are many glaring faults.
Lila and Eve seem to travel and follow these bad guys at will. And yet, it takes these killers days to find out where Lila lives, with little consequence. These women come and go at will, shooting people willy-nilly --- and gaining entrance to snazzy high rise apartments. It shouldn't work that easily, which is why "Lila & Eve" doesn't work.
What saves this film from being a "Don't Bother!" are the performances from Davis and Lopez. Davis is always phenomenal. and brings credibility to Lila. She is excellent as the grieving mother, distraught by the total lack of police investigation. In anyone else's hands, Lila could have been a gun-toting fool, but Davis never overplays her anguish, hatred and love.
Lopez redeems herself here following the disastrous film last year "The Boy Next Door". She makes a great sidekick as Eve --- always the one to take care of things for Lila. Her portrayal is understated and really, really good.
The other standout in this cast is Ron Caldwell who plays Justin, Lila's younger son. He is magnetic in his scenes, and exudes a strong screen presence. Watch for him to do bigger and better things.
Shea Whigham was so effective in "Boardwalk Empire", but much less so in "Lila & Eve". Though that is not entirely of his doing --- it's the result of a poorly written screenplay.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
You could say "Lila & Eve" was ripped from today's headlines, and you'd be partially right. The twist is how an African-American mother reacts to her son's murder in a drive-by shooting.
Lila (the incomparable Viola Davis) has two boys, seemingly well behaved with a solid upbringing. Stephon (Aml Ameen) and his younger brother Justin (Ron Caldwell) are celebrating the elder's birthday with a second-hand computer Lila purchased for the occasion. Life seems good in their modest home, and Lila is the picture of pride as Stephon is preparing for college.
All that is shattered in the brutal incident that is all-too-common today. Overwhelmingly distraught, Lila reluctantly attends a support group of mothers caught in similar situations. There she meets Eve (Jennifer Lopez), who herself lost a daughter to violence.
The cop investigating Stephon's murder (Holliston) is played effectively By Shea Whigham, most notable from "Boardwalk Empire". But when the search for the killer moves too slowly, Lila is urged by Eve to take matters into her own hands and scour the streets for the culprit.
"Lila & Eve" is a taut thriller for much of the film. It suffers a bit from a couple of flaws, but they're not deal breakers. The ensemble cast is frightfully realistic, that is, the young hoodlums are scary individuals who carry guns, and don't hesitate to use them, or at least threaten to do so. Davis and Lopez mesh well together, the latter never seeming to get enough credit for her acting talent.
Director Charles Stone III has packed some memorable moments into a tight 94 minutes. No dialogue is wasted, no scenes are superfluous. When Lila and Eve get dolled up for a cruise through a nightclub, in search of the killer, it's a time for brief levity, especially when they take multiple selfies before they leave for the club. But the suspense is quickly ramped up on the dance floor when they contact the individual they believe to be responsible, on his cell phone.
There is no letup from this moment as Lila and Eve's actions threaten to spiral out of control. Their vigilante behavior is shocking, and we believe it's only a matter of time before Holliston figures things out. But a couple of major surprises are in store, thanks to the smart script by first-timer Pat Gilfillan. But let's be clear --- anything with Viola Davis is a must-see.
Opinion: See It Now!