Sluggishly paced and too seldom funny, Martin Lawrence’s writer-director-producer-star turn in “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate” proves a tedious affair, alternately drawing its inspiration from “Boomerang” and “Fatal Attraction.” Lawrence enjoyed some box office success with “Bad Boys” and has a loyal following from his Fox TV show, so initial results could nevertheless be strong in urban areas before word of mouth starts to thin out theater lines.
Pic’s one real asset is Lynn Whitfield’s performance as a femme fatale who, after gradually being won over by Lawrence’s character, admits that she killed her husband and essentially begins stalking him.
The movie seems halfhearted, however, in its message about the dangers of infidelity and using “the ‘L’ word” insincerely, and the script moves so leisurely through the early going that even with a teaser sequence hinting that there’s trouble to come, it’s hard not to lose patience waiting to get there.
Lawrence plays Darnell, a self-professed ladies man who helps run a club called Chocolate City. With his friend Tee (singer Bobby Brown), he meets a provocative and wealthy woman, Brandi (Whitfield), who at first wants nothing to do with him.
Darnell works overtime to woo the reluctant Brandi despite the return of a former flame, Mia (Regina King), to whom he also finds himself drawn.
Once Darnell has scored with Brandi, matters get out of hand quickly — not helped by the fact that Darnell is dumb enough to spend the night with someone else using Brandi’s limousine.
Subtlety isn’t exactly Lawrence’s long suit, in fact, as a director, writer (with help from Bentley Kyle Evans, Kenny Buford and Kim Bass) or actor. Not only is the script structurally weak, but Lawrence the director allows Lawrence the actor to mug shamelessly, which works when he’s playing broader comedic moments but not when he’s trying to establish Darnell as a romantic presence.
As a result, Darnell isn’t terribly sympathetic, and virtually every beat of the film is telegraphed well in advance. It also doesn’t help that Darnell makes an explicit reference to “Fatal Attraction,” given the obvious similarities of a one-night-stand gone bad.
Whitfield does convey a certain menace and allure as Brandi — a feat made all the more impressive by the pic’s shortcomings elsewhere. King has little to do as the girl next door, though Della Reese does deliver one rousing moment as Darnell’s mother when Brandi brings the fight to her doorstep.
Tech credits are subpar, with some confusing edits and sequences, such as an unnecessary fracas that takes place in the club. The movie does feature a solid score that includes an updated version of the R&B song from which the pic derives its title.