[Screen It]

(2010) (Queen Latifah, Common) (PG)

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Romantic Comedy: After her god-sister dumps a pro basketball player when his career seems over, a physical therapist takes on the challenge of rehabilitating him only to find herself falling for the athlete.
Leslie Wright (QUEEN LATIFAH) is a physical therapist and lifelong Jersey girl who loves her work and the NBA's New Jersey Nets. Yet, unlike her gold-digger god-sister, Morgan Alexander (PAULA PATTON), who's unemployed, living in her house and trying to figure out how to land a pro basketball player as her future husband, Leslie is content just to be a fan. Thus, she's excited when she accidentally meets Nets veteran Scott McKnight (COMMON) and he invites her to his birthday party, but then laments that he has eyes for Morgan instead of her.

It's a common occurrence for Leslie, and her parents, Lloyd (JAMES PICKENS JR.) and Janice (PAM GRIER), try to boost her spirits. She's resigned, however, to the fact that this is just the way it is, where guys view her as a friend rather than romantically. And she's happy for Morgan when Scott proposes to her, even if his mom, Ella (PHYLICIA RASHAD), thinks their relationship is progressing too quickly.

When Scott blows out his knee during the all-star game and his future career seems in doubt, Morgan breaks off the engagement, despite Leslie being hired full time to rehabilitate the pro. As she does so, however, and pushes to get him back in shape in time for the playoffs, she starts to develop feelings for him, with the feeling being mutual.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Let's acknowledge what everyone already knows but usually doesn't want to admit. While films where the girl overcomes the odds and manages to get the right guy for her are usually labeled as romantic dramas, dramedies or comedies, more often than not they're actually fantasy films. Granted, that doesn't mean they should be lumped in with sci-fi flicks or the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Yet, there's no denying their material, no matter how uplifting, inspiring and/or enjoyable it might be to rom-com fans, usually doesn't exist in the real world.

Okay, yes, I'm generalizing, but you get the point that they're playing off notions instilled in many a young girl's head -- usually put there by some sort of previous media exposure -- that life should be all about white picket fences, guys who will drop anything to be with them, and a happily ever after lifestyle. And in what's apparently some sort of unwritten rule, any such offering must be as formulaic and predictable as possible, presumably so as not to diminish or otherwise threaten the fantasy notion.

The latest such pic from the rubber mold rom-com factory is "Just Wright," a picture we immediately know is a fantasy since it's a story about the New Jersey Nets being perennial NBA winners (no offense to any Nets fans out there, but they did lose 70 of their 82 games this past season). But we're not here to critique the team, and the plot really isn't just about them and their season, although that does play a pivotal, if obviously fictional part of this story from director Sanaa Hamri.

Working from the highly original, completely innovative and surprisingly fresh screenplay by Michael Elliot -- uh, sorry, got lost in a fantasy moment there myself where such movies exist -- the filmmaker wants us to buy into the aforementioned notion of the Nets' playing prowess, that rapper turned actor Common is their star player, and that Queen Latifah could win his heart after he's laid his peepers on her va-va-voom god-sister (played by Paula Patton doing the gold-digger thing almost to the point of parody).

Although the film obviously isn't following the Cinderella story to a T, there's little attempt to disguise the inspiration where the stepsister of sorts undermines the less stunning heroine (who's perpetually bedeviled by the "we could be friends" response from men), with a leg-related issue (a busted knee on the NBA star rather than the proverbial glass slipper) being the thing that eventually brings the two unlikely souls together.

I certainly wasn't predicting this film to be this year's "(500) Days of Summer" (a terrific flick that thankfully put a fresh spin on the genre), but it might be one of the most predictable entries (along with "Letters to Juliet" that, coincidentally or not is being released theatrically on the same day) to come down the pike in some time.

From the moment the characters are established (physical therapist, bombshell gold-digger and pro basketball player), there's not even a speck of doubt about how things will play out. In fact, the only thing I got wrong in such regards was the exact moment when the god-sister would return in the third act to spoil -- temporarily, of course -- the budding romance between the two unlikely lovers (I guessed too early).

All of which is too bad because Queen Latifah has such a winning presence in the film. It's not the way in which her character has been crafted or the dialogue the filmmakers have put into her mouth. It's just an easygoing and affable charm that effortlessly flows from her that has you wanting her character to be happy, and makes it all the more frustrating that she's stuck in such a rote flick.

Common has his moments, but isn't entirely convincing as a pro baller (although the choreography and shots of him on the court work fine), and his character is maddeningly enslaved to the plot formula. Latifah has a bit of that as well (although thankfully not to the same extent), but the chemistry between their characters, while present, doesn't exactly send red hot smoke wafting from the projector or screen. As previously stated, Patton's character is too cartoonish to believe, some of the real-life NBA players are understandably a bit stiff in their performances, and the likes of screen veterans James Pickens Jr., Pam Grier and Phylicia Rashad are present simply as the concerned and protective parental figures.

As was the case with Vanessa Redgrave in "Letters to Juliet," Latifah manages to rise above the material, but you similarly wish -- nay, fantasize -- that she could have enveloped herself and her character in far better, more interesting and/or engaging material. While Latifah mostly shoots and scores here, the overall picture is an air ball as it doesn't even hit the rim. "Just Wright" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed May 10, 2010 / Posted May 14, 2010

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