It may only be June, but "Juwanna Mann," directed by first-timer Jesse Vaughan, is already the second cross-dressing comedy of the year. The premise of a character deciding to dress as the opposite sex to fulfill a singular purpose is so old-hat by now that, if a film doesn't mix things up and create its own creative voice, is destined for failure. Last March's "Sorority Boys
," an R-rated college comedy, didn't hesitate in being outlandish and, at times, vulgarly over-the-top. In comparison, the PG-13 "Juwanna Mann" does not go far enough in its humor or stock ideas to stand out as particularly memorable or even all that funny.
When the hot-tempered Jamal Jeffries (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), a star NBA player, breaks the moral agreement in his contract after stripping at a game, he finds himself broke and without a profession. Moving back in with his Aunt Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) after losing his house and fed-up girlfriend (Kimberly 'Lil Kim' Jones), he soon forms a surefire way in which to return to his basketball career: by joining the fictional WUBA (subbing for the WNBA) and posing as female player Juwanna Mann. Jamal's fraudulent plan works, as he is instantly recruited to a winning team and strikes up a warm friendship with gorgeous teammate Michelle Langford (Vivica A. Fox). It is only a matter of time, however, before people start finding out the truth about Jamal/Juwanna.
"Juwanna Man" is a relatively painless trifle, brightened considerably by charming performances from Miguel A. Nunez Jr. (2002's "Scooby Doo
") and Vivica A. Fox (1999's "Idle Hands
"), but they are stranded at the hands of an idiot plot that wouldn't even have seemed fresh forty years ago. Nunez Jr. does an admittedly fairly believable impersonation of a woman, and isn't terribly unattractive as such. Fox, meanwhile, is her usual winning self and, as usual, is stuck in a dumbed-down movie that her talents are so clearly above.
The screenplay, written by Bradley Allenstein, is a half-hearted sell-out. Potentially entertaining situational comedy set-pieces, including one in which Jamal is forced to receive a complete physical as Juwanna, disappoint with lame and tired payoffs. Other comedic moments are astoundingly misguided, including a profanity-laced speech that is incomprehensibly bleeped-out for not reason but to receive a PG-13 rating. How distressing it is when an art form (even something by the name of "Juwanna Mann") is compromised for a measly MPAA rating and a few extra dollars at the box office.
Save for the dignified Jenifer Lewis (2000's "Cast Away
"), as Jamal's steadfast Aunt Ruby, the supporting cast are required to do little with their undernourished roles, and the actors give no more than that. Kevin Pollak (2001's "3000 Miles to Graceland
") plays Jamal's stereotypically stern agent; Kim Wayans (TV's "In Living Color") is the stereotypical lesbian teammate; Tommy Davidson (2000's "Bamboozled") is the stereotypical rapper Puff Smokey Smoke, who has eyes for Juwanna; and R&B artist Ginuwine is Michelle's stereotypically cheating boyfriend. Do you see a pattern here?
Once "Juwanna Mann" discloses its basic storyline, the proceeding plot developments long come into focus before they play out. We know Juwanna will have to go to great lengths to hide his true identity as Jamal. We know he will secretly fall in love with Michelle. We know his sex will be uncovered by the climactic playoff game. And we know there will be a bittersweet reconciliation between Jamal and the betrayed Michelle. We know all of this and, at the same time, there is a certain comfort in its sheer predictability. "Juwanna Mann" is breezy summer entertainment, but it ultimately stumbles because director Jesse Vaughan never gets a firm enough grasp on the picture's worn-out, but inspired, comedic potential.
©2002 by Dustin Putman