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: ‘A Holiday Chance,’ starring Nafessa Williams, Sharon Leal, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Richard Lawson, Amin Joseph and Tobias Truvillion

December 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Richard Lawson, Sharon Leal and Nafessa Williams in “A Holiday Chance” (Photo courtesy of Faith Media Distribution)

“A Holiday Chance”

Directed by Jamal Hill

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy/drama “A Holiday Chance” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two sisters, who have opposite personalities, are forced to work together when they inherit the family’s movie production/distribution company.

Culture Audience: “A Holiday Chance” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of family-oriented dramedies that stick to a predictable formula but have realistic characters and entertaining screenplays.

Sharon Leal, Amin Joseph, Richard Lawson, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Nafessa Williams in “A Holiday Chance” (Photo courtesy of Faith Media Distribution)

“A Holiday Chance” has almost no surprises, but this likable comedy/drama has appealing cast members that enliven this story about a family learning to resolve conflicts in business and in their personal lives. It’s mostly lightweight entertainment, but there are some serious issues about grief and forgiveness that add emotional gravitas to make the story more meaningful. If you enjoy stories about families during the end-of-year holiday season, then “A Holiday Chance” might be worth watching if you want a movie that’s the equivalent of familiar comfort food.

Directed by Jamal Hill and written by Curtis Bryant, “A Holiday Chance” is about a upper-middle-class clan whose family business is an independent film production/distribution company called Chance Vision. The company was founded by patriarch Garvin Chance (played by Richard Lawson), whose devotion to the business has often come at a cost to spending personal time with his family. Chance Vision has been financially struggling in recent years, which is a secret that Garvin has kept from most of the family until it can no longer be kept a secret.

Garvin and his loyal wife Sheryl (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway) have two daughters together: Noel (played by Nafessa Williams) and Naomi (played by Sharon Leal), who have very different personalities and are leading very different lives. Noel, who is very practical, is a 32-year-old never-married bachelorette who works with her father in Chance Media as a supervising manager. Naomi, who is very flaky, is a 36-year-old housewife and mother. Naomi’s husband Marcus (played by Amin Joseph) is an attorney; they have a daughter together named Ryan (played by Gabriela Merid), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

For as long as they can remember, Noel and Naomi have been bickering sisters. Even though Naomi is the older sister, Noel is the more responsible sibling. For example, when Noel finds out that Naomi hasn’t paid her taxes in years, Noel writes a check to pay the taxes and make the problem go away. It’s also revealed in the story that Naomi has tried to start multiple businesses, which have all failed because she gave up too easily when she thought things got too hard.

Chance Vision is also headed for a possible business failure. The company has generated millions in revenue, but has fallen behind when adapting to technological changes in the marketplace. In a meeting between Noel and her father Garvin, Noel advise him to invest more in streaming and digital because they are growth areas for movie production and distribution. He says he’ll think about taking her advice.

When the movie begins, it’s around the Christmas holidays, and the family has gathered with other relatives for a traditional holiday dinner. Sheryl’s sister Joanne, nicknamed Jo (played by Pamela Shaddock), and Joanne’s daughter Terri (played by Chasity Saunders) are also part of this tight-knit clan. It also happens to be a dinner celebration for Noel’s birthday.

Someone who has stopped by the Chance family home but who isn’t staying for dinner is a movie producer named Keith Austin (played by Tobias Truvillion), who is a good-looking and charismatic available bachelor. Keith has stopped by for a private meeting with Garvin, to get some business advice. Before Keith leaves, he’s introduced to Noel, thereby making it obvious that maybe some family matchmaking might be at play.

Something happens during the dinner that changes the family’s lives forever. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Noel and Naomi end up being forced to run the business together, under Garvin’s orders. It’s not as phony as it sounds, because it’s a scenario that could happen in real life.

Predictably, Noel thinks that Naomi is ill-equipped to be a business person, while Naomi thinks that Noel is unfairly dismissive of Naomi’s ideas. Naomi wants to spend big money, while Noel is more frugal and cautious, considering that Chance Vision is losing so much money, it could be headed for bankruptcy. The sisters even clash over the Christmas decorations that Naomi has bought for the office. Naomi thinks that the decorations are festive, while Noel thinks the decorations are gaudy.

Noel thinks Chance Vision should expand its business to doing more TV programs. Noel is eyeing a possible merger with a TV studio owned by an entrepreneur named Samantha West (played by Christina Chauncey). And then another TV company called GTI Studios enters the mix with another potential offer.

During all of this drama with the Chance family and their business, Keith shows an interest in dating Noel, but she’s a commitment-phobe with trust issues. Meanwhile, Naomi and Marcus are having marital problems because of her spending, which has caused a strain on their marriage. Marcus gets promoted to partner of his law firm and ends up working closely with a newly hired associated named Meagan Wright (played by Crystal-Lee Naomi), who is smart and physically attractive. And you know what that means: Naomi gets jealous.

“A Holiday Chance” can get a little rough around the edges with the movie’s screenplay and editing, which could have improved in some areas where transitions between scenes are a little awkward. And some of the supporting cast members are on the mediocre side when it comes to their acting. However, the main characters handle their roles well, even if sometimes the dialogue and scenarios veer into sitcom-ish or melodrama territory.

Overall, “A Holiday Chance” is exactly like what it appears to be in the movie’s trailers, which thankfully do not give away too much of the movie’s plot developments. Even though you know how the movie is probably going to end, “A Holiday Chance” has enough amusing and heartfelt moments to make the movie enjoyable to a lot of viewers. There’s realistic chemistry between the actors depicting the family members that make this story relatable without being insincere or emotionally exhausting.

Faith Media Distribution released “A Holiday Chance” in select U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2021. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 17, 2021.

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