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(2002) (Miguel A. Nuņez, Jr., Vivica A. Fox) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After being kicked out of professional basketball for being an egotistical jerk, a male player takes on the look and persona of a woman so that he can join the ladies league and continue playing.
Jamal Jeffries (MIGUEL A. NUŅEZ, JR.) is a star pro basketball player for the Charlotte Beat. He's also an egotistical jerk who doesn't believe in teamwork, and his latest antics get him kicked out of the league. After his possessions are reposed, his girlfriend leaves him, and his agent, Lorne Daniels (KEVIN POLLAK), refuses to help him anymore, Jamal goes to stay with his Aunt Ruby (JENIFER LEWIS) who tries to talk some sense into him.

That doesn't work, but Jamal gets an idea about how to play again while watching a girl holding her own against some boys on a neighborhood court. Calling Lorne to set up a tryout for a "friend" of his with Coach Rivers (ANNIE CORLEY) of the Charlotte Banshees in the women's league, Jamal shows up dressed as Juwanna Mann and fools everyone into believing he's a large and rather unattractive, but talented female player.

Team captain Michelle Langford (VIVICA A. FOX) is none too happy that Juwanna has been added to the team or made a starter when one of the other players suffers an injury. It gets worse when Juwanna hogs the ball and wins the game by his/herself. Eventually, however, Juwanna wins over Michelle and the rest of the team. He/she also unwittingly ends up on a double date with Michelle and her singer boyfriend, Romeo (GINUWINE), and his obnoxious friend, Puff Smokey Smoke (TOMMY DAVIDSON), who hits on Juwanna, unaware that she's really a he.

As the team goes on a sudden winning streak, Jamal is forced to take more creative steps to protect his identity while posing as Juwanna. He also finds himself falling for Michelle, but keeps pressuring Lorne to get him back into the men's league, all while learning to become a better man while posing as a woman. With the playoffs approaching and his popularity as Juwanna increasing, Jamal must decide what to do and with which of his identities.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If there's anything worse than a bad film, it's one that steals from a previous effort and tries to make the lifted material seem original, but still manages to be pretty much predictable from start to finish. Such is the case with "Juwanna Mann," the latest man in drag comedy that bears more than a passing resemblance to what's arguably one of the best such films, "Tootsie."

In that film, Dustin Hoffman plays an actor who can't keep a job or get work due to, among other things, his attitude that makes him hard to get along with. Much to the chagrin and initial shock of his agent, he then poses as a southern woman, gets a job on a soap opera and becomes a big star.

Along the way, he starts falling for his pretty coworker - who sees him as a girlfriend in which she can confide - and tries to let her know that her boyfriend is really a cad, all while fending off the unwelcome advances of a male suitor. The actor also becomes a better man as a woman, but must deal with his cover eventually being blown.

In this film, Miguel A. Nuņez, Jr. ("Life," "Why Do Fools Fall In Love") plays an egotistical pro basketball player who can't keep his job due to his attitude. In turn, and to the dismay of his agent, he poses as a southern woman to play in the women's league where he 1) becomes a star, 2) falls for his pretty teammate who's blind to the fact that she's dating a cad, 3) fends off a man who's oblivious to the fact that he's a guy and 4) becomes a better man in the process only to face the eventual disclosure of his identity.

If it's not bad enough that the film steals all of that and more, and is so predictable that you'll know exactly what will develop and in what order, the picture tells its tale with no finesse. While "Tootsie" might not have been the first man in drag comedy, it featured terrific writing, direction and performances, not to mention its clever premise.

This film contains none of the above, and doesn't even go far enough in its irreverent material to make it enjoyable on that sort of sophomoric level. There are the to be expected jokes and gags about a guy in drag and having to protect his ruse (in the ladies shower, hotel rooms, a doctor's office, etc.), but they're neither clever nor crude enough to work either way, let alone come off as memorable. The result is a bland comedy that's unlikely to elicit many, if any laughs except from friends and family of the cast and crew and/or possibly someone under the influence of some mind-altering substance.

The filmmakers - director Jesse Vaughan (making his feature film debut) and screenwriter Bradley Allenstein (similarly making his debut) - also don't do a good job in making us believe that the other characters couldn't see through the "disguise," particularly when Juwanna is on the court and bears a rather striking resemblance to Jamal. Movie characters aren't always the most perceptive sorts of people - think of a pair of glasses hiding Superman's identity - but at least in films such as "Tootsie" and "Mrs. Doubtfire" the female counterparts looked different and their lack of beauty or femininity was noted.

In fact, the fun of those films along with the work of the likes of Milton Berle and Flip Wilson doing the drag thing on their TV shows was that they were so masculine or just plain ugly that they'd never pass as a woman. For all of the theft taking place here, that's one element the filmmakers didn't lift (along with the hurried dressing back and forth between characters scene).

Considering the mediocre to bad material with which they have to work, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the performances aren't good. While Nuņez, Jr. is convincing enough on the court to get by as a pro player, he's less so in most of anything else the weakly written role asks of him.

Vivica A. Fox ("Kingdom Come," "Independence Day") is okay but unremarkable as his teammate and budding love interest, while Jenifer Lewis ("The Preacher's Wife," "What's Love Got To Do With It?") plays the stereotypical, older but wise black relative. Kevin Pollak ("The Wedding Planner," "The Whole Nine Yards") and especially Tommy Davidson ("Bamboozled," "Woo") fair much worse, with the latter constantly playing up an exaggerated and effectively annoying caricature of a character.

In the end (and the beginning and middle for that matter), the film is lacking in logic (the women's team would be disqualified once the ruse was discovered) or the sort of intelligent writing or imaginative touch needed to pull off the material successfully.

Quite simply and despite its own form of disguise, this is a poor retreading of most every plot and character element from "Tootsie." While it's not quite awful enough to rate up there with the worst of the year (although it's close), it's clearly far from the best and doesn't even rank with the mediocre. "Juwanna Mann" rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed May 30, 2002 / Posted June 21, 2002

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