Thin Line between Love and Hate, A (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate is muddled to the point of tedium. The screenplay is credited to four writers, and its unevenness argues that none of them were on the same wavelength. Subplots start but never finish, characters come and go, and even the main storyline can't decide whether it wants to be a comedy, a morality play, or a thriller. Lead actor Martin Lawrence (in his directorial debut) has a degree of screen presence, but not even his charisma can rescue this cliched film from sliding into oblivion.

Darnell (Lawrence) is the kind of character who it's easy to dislike. He's a classic womanizer -- the kind of man who keeps a stream of girlfriends waiting at the other end of the phone for his call. For Darnell, the harder a woman is to get, the more she entices him. So when Brandi (Lynn Whitfield), a wealthy real estate agent, turns her nose up at his come-ons, Darnell goes after her with the tenacity of a pit bull. Employing every trick in his book -- flowers, a hired limo, classy presents, and even a horseback riding excursion -- he sets out on a coldly-plotted plan of seduction. Eventually, he succeeds, but he gets more than he bargained for. When he tries to break things off with Brandi to prove his affection for the high school sweetheart who has come back to town (Regina King), he discovers that Brandi isn't willing to let him go. She'll try anything, including bodily harm, to keep him.

Mix Eddie Murphy's Boomerang with Fatal Attraction, and you get an idea how confused A Thin Line Between Love and Hate is. Although Lawrence, who's wearing half-a-dozen hats for this film (Executive Producer, Music Supervisor, Story, Screenplay, Director, and Star), includes a few humorous scenes, there's not enough comedy to leaven the film's slower portions. The dreary setup takes forever, the thriller elements are disappointingly pedestrian, and the climax is formulaic.

There is the core of an interesting story here -- what happens when a lothario becomes a victim -- but Lawrence never does more with this plot strand than superficially trace it. There should be a lot transpiring on a psychological level, but the script is content with unbelievable transformations and simple labels. Darnell is the repentant sinner and Brandi is the psycho scorned woman. The film's message -- don't say you love someone unless you mean it -- doesn't have any resonance because, aside from a few cuts and bruises, Darnell never pays a real price for his actions. The ending doesn't have the guts to demand a meaningful sacrifice.

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate boasts several solid performances. Lawrence is energetic, but never so completely out-of-control that he loses the audience the way Jim Carrey does. Lynn Whitfield occasionally manages to bring hints of humanity to Brandi (the almost- invisible tear on her cheek when Darnell breaks off the relationship is a nice touch). Regina King and Della Reese (as Darnell's mother) are effective in supporting roles.

With a more clear notion of what it was trying to do and a shorter, tighter script, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate could have been worthwhile as a comedy or a thriller, although doubtfully as both. In its present form, however, the only line that this film treads is the ugly one between mediocrity and pointlessness.

Thin Line between Love and Hate, A (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:48
U.S. Release Date: 1996-04-03
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1