In case there was ever any doubt, it's official: Viola Davis is a phenomenal actress. In Lila and Eve, she takes a rather ridiculous premise and proves she's one of the best.

But if you've seen her in literally anything else she's done, you already know.

Directed by Philadelphia native Charles Stone III (son of the late Daily News columnist Chuck Stone), Lila and Eve is about two mothers (Davis and Jennifer Lopez, respectively) who find each other in a support group for women who have lost children. Lila's teen son was at the wrong place at the wrong time, an unfortunate bystander at a drive-by shooting; Eve's young daughter was killed under mysterious circumstances.

Lila is in pain - beautifully depicted by Davis - and no one is bothering to help. The two detectives working the case (Boardwalk Empire's Shea Whigham and The Wire's Andre Royo) can barely remember her name, let alone solve her son's murder.

She finds solace in Eve, who forces Lila out of her pajamas and, more importantly, out of her comfort zone. At first, that entails home improvement. But then, Eve convinces Lila to go searching for her son's killer in an effort to heal themselves. The initial shooting leads to a revenge spree that kills off anyone associated with Lila's pain.

The first act lends itself to a revenge fantasy: Who among us would not want to do harm to those who harm the ones we love? But a mid-point twist is particularly ridiculous, and in an attempt to reconcile this turning point, the final act of the movie becomes a mess.

Throughout, though, Davis is fantastic. Her pain is palpable as a woman broken by the death of her son. Lopez, so attuned to the high camp of her recent film work (The Boy Next Door), tones it down a bit for her role as the take-charge Eve, but she pales in comparison to Davis' inherent power on screen.

When Lila and Eve takes a break from revenge, there are moments of true honesty. The scenes in the support group are of particular note, but they are few and far between.

Davis is better than Lila and Eve, but she still gives it her all, and her performance is the film's saving grace.

Lila and Eve ** (Out of four stars)


Directed by Charles Stone III. With Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Andre Royo, Aml Ameen. Distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 mins.

Parents guide: R (violence and language).

Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.EndText