Review: ‘The Devil You Know’ (2022), starring Omar Epps, Michael Ealy, Glynn Turman, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Will Catlett, Theo Rossi and Erica Tazel

March 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Omar Epps and Michael Ealy in “The Devil You Know” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Devil You Know” (2022)

Directed by Charles Murray

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “The Devil You Know” features a cast of predominantly African American characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A recovering alcoholic, who’s trying to get his life back on track, struggles with finding out that his younger brother was involved in a home invasion that resulted in the murders of two people. 

Culture Audience: “The Devil You Know” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories about African American families, but this dull misfire is not a well-made film, and it perpetuates many negative stereotypes of African American men.

Will Catlett and Omar Epps in “The Devil You Know” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Relentlessly dull and with a lot of cringeworthy acting, “The Devil You Know” tries to be a gritty drama, but the movie does nothing innovative or special. It also repeats negative, racist stereotypes that African American men are most likely to become criminals—even the ones who come from “good families.” It’s unfortunate that some filmmakers think they need to have a criminal angle in stories about African American families in order to sell a movie. There are plenty of African American people who come from families who don’t have criminal records. But you don’t see many movies made about these law-abiding African American families, because those stories don’t pander to racist people’s ideas that African American families are usually about crime, poverty or drugs.

Written and directed by Charles Murray, “The Devil You Know” has a lot of other problems besides wallowing in pathetic, negative stereotypes. It’s a crime drama that’s supposed to be suspenseful, but there is no suspense to be had when the movie reveals fairly on who the obvious villain is. A lot of time is wasted with monotonous scenes and conversations that drag everything out until the movie’s predictable ending. Most of the actors seem bored in their roles and give performances where they just recite their lines, with no noticeable emotional connection to their characters.

“The Devil You Know,” which takes place in Los Angeles, centers on a tight-knit African American family whose last name is Cowans. The family is headed by patriarch Lloyd Cowans (played by Glynn Turman) and his wife Della Cowans (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway), who have a healthy and loving relationship with each other. Lloyd and Della have four sons, whose ages range from their 50s to 30s. Lloyd and Della’s marriage is one of the few positive relationships shown in the movie, but that relationship is overshadowed by the criminal acts that cause trauma in the family.

Eldest sons Anthony Cowans (played by Curtiss Cook) and Marcus Cowans (played by Omar Epps) are in completely opposite points in their lives. Anthony, who is the most level-headed and stable of the four brothers, is steadily employed and happily married. Marcus, who is a bachelor, is a recovering alcoholic who’s trying to get his life back on track after spending time in rehab and in prison for an unnamed crime or crimes. Marcus has recently gotten a job as a city bus driver, thanks to Lloyd’s connections.

Youngest sons Drew Cowans (played by Will Catlett) and Terry Cowans (played by Vaughn W. Hebron) are also almost polar opposites too. Drew is a hothead who has been hiding the fact that he’s been unemployed for the past six months. Terry, the youngest son, is mild-mannered and easygoing. The movie skimps on the details about what anyone in this family, except for Marcus, does for a living.

“The Devil You Know” opens with three masked men invading the home of 58-year-old Nicholas Gervich (played by Jeph Loeb), his 52-year-old wife Wendy Gervich and their 17-year-old son Kyle Gervich (played by Conor Sherry), during an armed robbery that takes place at night. The horrific violence that happens in that household is not shown in the movie. However, the crime scene is shown in the aftermath, when police detective Joe McDonald (played by Michael Ealy) shows up with his team to investigate the murders and other crimes that took place in the Gervich home. Nicholas and Wendy have been shot dead. Kyle was brutally assaulted, but he survived. A number of items, including some cash, have been stolen from the Gervich home.

Because the trailer and synopsis for “The Devil You Know” already reveal that Drew was involved in this home invasion, it should come as no surprise who the home invaders are. Drew hangs out with two shady thugs named Al Edwards (played by Theo Rossi) and Stacy Griffin (played by B.J. Britt), who don’t do much in this movie but show up and try to look menacing. Al has a constant smirky grin and takes the lead when making threats, while Stacy is more likely to be a follower instead of a leader.

For someone who’s in charge of the investigation, Detective McDonald isn’t in the movie as much as viewers might think he should be. Ealy’s total screen time in “The Devil You Know” is about 15 minutes. And he’s doing the kind of performance where he might as well wear a T-shirt that says: “I’m just here for the paycheck.” Ealy and Epps both have the title of executive producer of “The Devil You Know,” but that doesn’t mean their acting in the movie is exemplary.

“The Devil You Know” has a not-very-interesting subplot of Marcus dating a hospital nurse named Eva Dylan (played by Erica Tazel), who met Marcus at a Cowans family dinner. It was a matchmaking set-up from Marcus’ sister-in-law Tisha Cowans (played by Keisha Epps), who is Anthony’s wife. Unfortunately, Omar Epps and Tazel (who acts in a stiff and robotic manner) have no believable chemistry together as romantic couple Marcus and Eva, who fall in love with each other. It probably would’ve been a better casting choice to have Keisha Epps, who is Omar Epps’ real-life wife, as Marcus’ love interest in the movie.

Viewers of this movie are stuck having to sit through bland scenes where Marcus and Eva have a very tedious romance with snoozeworthy conversations. Even though Eva tries to play hard-to-get when she first meets Marcus, she’s the one who makes the first move, by asking Marcus out on a dinner date. Over dinner at a restaurant, Eva says that she hasn’t dated anyone in two years, while Marcus says that he’s a “born-again virgin.” While they’re trading “celibates are us” stories, their waitress asks Marcus and Eva if they are celebrating something, because the waitress says that Marcus and Eva look like they’re in happy and in love. No, they look like two actors who aren’t doing a very good job of acting like they have romantic chemistry together.

The movie then fast-forwards three months later. Marcus and Eva are now dating, and they have settled comfortably in their relationship. Marcus takes the big step of giving Eva her own set of keys to his home. Eva tells Marcus, “If I take this, you ain’t getting rid of me.” Marcus replies, “That is the point.” Get used to a lot of simplistic and uninspired dialogue in “The Devil You Know,” because this movie is full of it.

It isn’t until about halfway through the movie that Marcus finds out about Drew’s involvement in the home invasion. While watching a TV news report about the home invasion, Marcus sees assault survivor Kyle being interviewed, and it’s mentioned that a distinctive baseball card collection was stolen from the Gervich family during this robbery. It’s the same baseball card collection that has recently come into Drew’s possession.

When Marcus confronts Drew about it, Drew says he got the card collection from Stacy, who told Drew that Stacy got the card collection from a “crackhead.” Knowing this is stolen property, Marcus calls in an anonymous tip to tell the police that Stacy and Al were probably the robbers/murderers in the deadly home invasion. But if Marcus’ plan was for Stacy and Al to get in trouble, the plan somewhat backfires, because Stacy and Al blame Drew for the robbery, assault and murders.

Drew is arrested and questioned by police, but he vehemently denies to Detective McDonald and the other cops that he had anything to do with the home invasion. Drew is let out on bail. Privately, Drew admits to Marcus that he was the getaway driver, but Drew insists that he had nothing to do with the murders, because Drew says that he was waiting in the car when the assault and murders happened. Considering that three men were seen entering the house, it’s already easy to figure out if Drew is telling the truth or not. And even without that big clue, the title of this movie says it all.

None of this is spoiler information, when so much of the plot is already revealed in the movie’s trailer. The only real mystery in the story is if Marcus and the rest of the family will continue to believe Drew, and if Drew will be punished for his part in the home invasion. “The Devil You Know” is so poorly written, the family is never seen discussing getting an attorney for Drew. Instead, there are several boring scenes that are the equivalent of handwringing, where family members wonder who among them snitched to the police.

There’s not much to the story about the Cowans family to give any background on them and what their family dynamics are. The movie just shows a series of scenes of family get-togethers that have an increasing number of arguments, as tensions begin to rise over Drew’s legal problems. Meanwhile, Al and Stacy are lurking around to make the expected threats to Drew, which can only lead to the inevitable result where not everyone in this trio of robbers will make it out alive by the end of the movie.

For a movie about a family drama to work well, there has to be more than just scenes of conversations strung together. The cast members have to look like they embody these characters in an authentic and believable way. And there has to be more to the story than just the tired, over-used stereotypes of an African American family dealing with someone in the family being accused of a serious crime.

“The Devil You Know” doesn’t care about showing who Marcus is beyond what the movie wants to define him as: someone who’s been involved in addiction and crime and trying to turn his life around for the better, but he gets pulled back into criminal entanglements because of his loser brother. Too many movies and TV shows have gone down that stereotypical route in ways that lack creativity. “The Devil You Know” is just another one of those forgettable movies.

In addition, the drab direction of “The Devil You Know” moves at such a sluggish pace, viewers will have a hard time keeping interest in a story where the characters are underdeveloped, there’s no real excitement or suspense, and the dialogue is bottom-of-the-barrel basic. If people want to see this movie for a lot of action scenes, such as shootouts or car chases, “The Devil You Know” comes up short in that area too. There’s some extreme melodrama thrown into the film in the last 15 minutes, but it’s not enough to save a movie that doesn’t deliver a story and characters that viewers can connect with in a meaningful way.

Lionsgate will release “The Devil You Know” in U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022.

Review: ‘Fatal Affair’ (2020), starring Nia Long and Omar Epps

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Nia Long and Omar Epps in “Fatal Affair” (Photo by Beth Dubber/Netflix)

“Fatal Affair” (2020)

Directed by Peter Sullivan

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco Bay Area, the dramatic film “A Fatal Affair” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married attorney is stalked by a former college classmate because he wants to have a romantic relationship with her.

Culture Audience: “Fatal Affair” is for people who love Lifetime movies.

Stephen Bishop and Nia Long in “Fatal Affair” (Photo by Beth Dubber/Netflix)

“Fatal Affair” looks like it could have been made for Lifetime, but the movie ended up on Netflix because Netflix pays more money than Lifetime does. Netflix has more money to throw around than Lifetime does, but that doesn’t guarantee that the quality of this type of “woman in peril” movie is going to be any better.

Even before watching any of “Fatal Affair” (directed by Peter Sullivan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Rasheeda Garner), people already know the checklist of what will be in the movie and how it will end. Is a woman being stalked or is in some other kind of danger? Check. Are there fairly tame sex scenes? Check. Is there a big showdown at the end of the movie? Check.

It seems redundant at this point to have a summary of this formulaic plot, but here it is: Successful civil attorney Ellie Warren (played by Nia Long, who is one of the producers of “Fatal Affair”) has been married to her college sweetheart for about 20 years. She works at a corporate law firm in San Francisco, but she’s announced her resignation because she’s starting her own law practice.

Ellie and her architect husband Marcus Warren (played by Stephen Bishop) have recently moved into their ideal beachfront home. Their only child Brittany (played by Aubrey Cleland) has just started her first year at an unnamed college in Berkeley. Life seems perfect. But since this is a movie called “Fatal Affair,” it’s only a matter of time before Ellie’s life is turned upside down.

Ellie is working on her last case (a trademark lawsuit) at her employer’s law firm before she launches her own law practice. One day, during a conference-room staff meeting about the case, a tech consultant is introduced to the team as someone who was recently hired to help with the case. The tech consultant’s name is David Hammond (played by Omar Epps), and Ellie is pleasantly surprised to see him because she and David attended the same college.

David and Ellie haven’t seen each other in about 20 years. During the meeting, it becomes apparent that David was hired to snoop into the opposing side’s email/Internet activities in order to help the firm build its case against the opponent. David doesn’t seem to have a problem doing this questionably ethical/probably illegal activity, so you can bet he’s going to use his computer-hacking skills when he inevitably begins to stalk Ellie.

After the meeting, David and Ellie make small talk about what’s been going on in their lives since they last saw each other. Ellie tells him that she’s happily married to Marcus, and they have a daughter who just started her first year in college. David is divorced with no kids.

David gives Ellie effusive compliments about how great she looks, and he makes it clear that he wants to see Ellie again. He asks if she’d like to meet up for drinks so they can catch up with each other. She politely declines. But by the way that David looks at Ellie, it’s obvious that he’s going to keep asking until she says yes.

Ellie has an attorney friend named Courtney (played by Maya Storm), who works for another law firm in the same building. Courtney has been pushing Ellie to go out and have some fun with her for a “girls’ night out” of dinner and drinking. They make plans to meet up, and when David sees Ellie again, he also asks again to meet up with her for dinner and drinks.

Ellie invites David to join her and Courtney for their night out, but Courtney cancels at the last minute because she has to work late that night. However, Ellie and David still decide to hang out anyway at the nightclub/bar where they were going to meet up with Courtney.

Before that happens, David tells Ellie that it wasn’t a coincidence that he started working for the law firm. He took the job because he knew she was working there. Ellie takes it as a compliment. Big mistake.

Over dinner and drinks, David immediately starts fishing for details about how Ellie’s marriage is going. Ellie tells David that there’s no trouble in paradise. She says that she has a perfect life, a perfect husband and a perfect daughter.

But then, Ellie contradicts herself by confessing to David that she and her husband have become emotionally distant from each other. She says, “One day, you wake up and it feels like the person you’ve been sleeping next to for 20 years is a complete stranger.” (This line is repeated again later in the movie in the cheesiest way possible.)

Ellie’s somewhat drunken revelation to David that there are cracks in her marriage is all he needs to hear to further turn up his sexual flirtation with her. They drink some more, then head to a nightclub, where they start dancing intimately.

Patrice Rushen’s 1982 hit “Forget Me Nots” is one of the songs that they dance to at the nightclub. That song shows up later in another scene that will make viewers howl with laughter at how the song is used in such a tacky way in this later scene. Rushen probably did not envision that her song would end up being literally warped as a backdrop in a moronic made-for-TV movie.

Back at the the nightclub, Ellie and David are grinding on each other on the dance floor. The next thing you know, David and Ellie are having a hot’n’heavy makeout session in the ladies’ room on the sink counter. Her underwear comes off, he unzips his pants, and it looks like they’re about to go at it, right there on the counter. (Apparently, they don’t seem to care if anyone could walk in at that moment.)

But before they can actually go through with it, Ellie suddenly comes to her senses and stops David. She tells him that she made a mistake and that nothing else can happen between them. David looks disappointed, and they go their separate ways.

He texts her an apology later that night, but she ignores it. But do you think David will go away quietly? Of course not. There would be no “Fatal Affair” movie if he did.

David then begins to bombard Ellie with texts and phone calls, asking her to meet up with him again. At first, she ignores him. And then she blocks his number. But he gets around that by calling from unknown numbers.

And then, David confronts Ellie while she’s about to get into her car outside of her office. It’s a somewhat hilarious scene because a driver who had been patiently waiting to get Ellie’s parking spot becomes increasingly frustrated when he sees that Ellie and David’s angry conversation is delaying Ellie getting into her car so she can leave the parking spot.

Ellies tells David that she doesn’t want to see him again and orders him to stop contacting her. But, of course, that makes David become crazier and more obsessed. He’s been stalking her in person. And unbeknownst to Ellie and Marcus, David has been spying on them at their house and even watches Marcus and Ellie’s bedroom activities.

And to Ellie’s horror, David starts dating Courtney. Ellie finds out when Courtney comes over for dinner at Ellie and Marcus’ new house, and Ellie is shocked to see that David is Courtney’s date. Ellie is so surprised that she pretends that she’s never met David before, which makes no sense, considering that David and Ellie were working together on a case for the same law firm shortly before she left the company. Based on the way that Courtney looks at David, and all the public displays of affection they show each other,  it’s a serious relationship and Courtney has fallen in love with David.

This is one of many plot holes in the movie. Courtney and Ellie are close friends, so how could Ellie not know that David was Courtney’s new boyfriend? Did Courtney assume that her new boyfriend David is not the same person who went to the same college as Ellie, worked at the same law firm, and was supposed to join Ellie and Courtney for drinks that night?

And why would Ellie be deceptive by pretending to not know David in front of her husband Marcus and Courtney, considering that Marcus, Ellie and David all went to the same college? Ellie wanted to keep the stalking a secret, but she didn’t have to lie about not knowing David. These are all unanswered questions in this movie’s messy plot.

At the dinner party, Ellie confronts David in a private conversation in her kitchen. She angrily tells him that he needs to leave her home immediately and stay out of her life. But does he stay out of her life? Of course not.

You can predict some of the other things he does to make life hell for Ellie. One of them is that he turns Courtney against Ellie and convinces Courtney that Ellie has been obsessively stalking him. Courtney doesn’t believe Ellie when Ellie tells her that David is the one who’s the obsessive stalker. Courtney also doesn’t heed Ellie’s warning to stay away from David.

During all this turmoil, Ellie foolishly doesn’t tell Marcus what’s going on until it’s almost too late. As a lawyer who should know better, she also doesn’t do anything to legally protect herself, such as report David’s harassment to the necessary people. However, this is an aspect of the film that’s fairly realistic, because many stalking victims keep silent about the stalking because they’re afraid or embarrassed.

And so, Ellie is probably the only person who’s shocked one day when she sees Marcus having a friendly game with David at a golf course. She’s still in “silence mode” about the stalking (probably because she doesn’t want her husband to find out that she almost had sex with David), so Ellie doesn’t do anything to interrupt the game, since Marcus and David are too far away.

During this golf game, Marcus opens up to David about recovering from a car accident that left him in a body cast for six months. It’s an obvious hint to viewers that Marcus’ car accident and difficult recovery put a strain on his marriage to Ellie. In a conversation seen at the beginning of the film, Ellie mentions that Marcus was still recovering from something, and now it’s revealed what that recovery is.

When Ellie finally does a background check on David (who has no criminal record), she discovers some important information about his marriage and divorce through public records. The information about David’s ex-wife Deborah is not surprising to viewers, because what happened to Deborah (played by KJ Smith) and her new boyfriend Travis (played by Jason-Shane Scott) was shown at the beginning of the movie.

There are also scenes of David in court-ordered anger management sessions with a therapist named Dr. Leigh Beverly (played by Fredella Calloway), who grows concerned when David tells her that he’s started seeing a new woman who’s technically married but the marriage is over. We can assume the court-ordered anger management was because of David’s divorce from Deborah, because Ellie’s background check showed that David has no criminal record.

The therapist warns David not to rush into a new relationship, considering how “broken” he was over Deborah. Dr. Beverly adds, “After what you’ve been through, I don’t think anyone would blame you if you were still having problems.” No one is going to be fooled by this scene that’s supposed to make David look like a sympathetic victim.

When the inevitable showdown happens at the end of the movie, there’s some more ridiculousness in these scenes, because people get injuries that magically seem to have no impact on them. One person falls from a window onto a concrete area in a way that would split someone’s head open or possibly break some bones, but this person gets up without any injuries or bleeding. Another person gets a large knife deeply plunged into the abdomen but is later able to run around as if the stab wound was from a small pocket knife.

It all leads to an ending that is beyond predictable; it’s a foregone conclusion. There’s obviously an audience for this type of formulaic “woman in peril” movie (or else Lifetime wouldn’t be in business), so people should know what they’re getting into when they decide to watch “Fatal Affair.”

And if people still have no idea what the movie will be about before they see it, and they’re turned off by the tawdriness of it all, at least they can take comfort in knowing that there won’t be a sequel to “Fatal Affair.” However, there will always be plenty of other movies that tell the same story but with different names.

Netflix premiered “Fatal Affair” on July 16, 2020.

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