As a Woman, He Got Game.
Oh happy day! It's not often that you find a movie that breaks all the boundaries of conventional cinema, a movie that superbly melds the best of several genres and creates a film of pure comic genius. I have discovered one, and that amazing film is Juwanna Mann. If you liked Tootsie, Big Momma's House, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hoosiers, and/or He Got Game then you'll love this movie, for we finally have that long-awaited urban, cross-dressing, sports movie.
Facts of the Case
You're one tall glass of water, and, I'm tellin' you straight up, I'm thirsty.—Puff Smokey Smoke
Jamal Jeffries (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Scooby-Doo, The Adventures of Pluto Nash) is the current bad boy of the UBA (United Basketball Association). In addition to his immense talent, he has a gigantic ego, which is constantly flaring up on the court causing him numerous disciplinary suspensions. One game he goes too far when his coach tries to pull him from the game. Jamal at first refuses to leave the court because "he is the team," but then he quickly realizes that he can't win this argument. So, in return, he strips off all his clothes and flashes the coliseum. This outrageous action leads to his indefinite suspension from the league. Lorne Daniels (Kevin Pollak, Project Greenlight, The Whole Nine Yards), Jamal's agent, is unable to do anything for his rowdy client as no team wants him, so is only recourse is to dump him.
Without basketball, Jamal's life spirals quickly downward as his extravagant lifestyle catches up to him. In no time flat, all of his friends leave him, his girlfriend dumps him, his belongings are repossessed, and his home is foreclosed. Having nowhere else to go, he moves in with his aunt. One day as Jamal is forced the humiliation of getting groceries, he comes across a group of kids playing ball. The kids at first make Jamal feel good by asking for his autograph, but quickly turn and diss him for all his stupid behavior on the court. However, it's an amazing encounter for he sees one of the kids really has game—and it's a girl! Inspiration hits. Seeing as he can't play for the UBA, he will instead look at the WUBA (Women's United Basketball Association). Tada! Juwanna Mann is born.
Using what little clout he has left, Jamal unwittingly dupes Lorne into getting Juwanna a tryout for the Charlottes Banshees, a team in the WUBA. Seeing how talented she is, Juwanna is immediately signed up and soon becomes a standout star in the women's league. However, Juwanna is as self-centered and rowdy as Jamal was, and that behavior is grating on her new teammates. To get the new star in line with a team-based philosophy, the coach enlists the team's captain, Michelle Langford (Vivica A. Fox, Independence Day, Soul Food), to work one-on-one with Juwanna to make her less self-absorbed.
As time moves on, many events in Juwanna's life come together: a possible reinstatement in the UBA, a potential berth for the Banshees in the WUBA finals, a budding affection for Michelle, and a suitor for Juwanna, Puff Smokey Smoke (Tommy Davidson, In Living Color). When all is done, will Juwanna's identity remain secret? Will Jamal's outrageous and egotistical behavior be reigned in? Will the Banshees make it to the finals? Will Jamal be allowed back into the UBA? Will Puff Smokey Smoke score? Is there a future for Juwanna and Michelle?
Another orphan of a bankrupt culture…—Hans Gruber
Once again Hollywood has proven that they have run out of ideas. Obviously every plot has been written, made into a movie, remade into another movie, and then mashed together with several other thinly related plots and made into yet another movie. Juwanna Mann came and went in about 4.5 seconds, but do you think Hollywood will notice? Will they stand up and proclaim "No more regurgitation!"? Will they work to produce better fare for the masses? Yeah, right. We'll just have to continue to wade through the muck they shovel in our direction. Better watch your step!
Since there have been so many movies about cross-dressing, with obviously far more of them focusing on men becoming women and not vice-versa, I don't even take a second to ponder why someone feels so desperate to have to pull such an outrageous stunt. It's so old hat at this point that I don't even care. I just go with the flow and hope there's something salvageable in the film. I wonder if there are any viable scenarios left for a cross-dressing film? Probably not, but I'm sure there will be another film next year. I can't wait!
The main problem with Juwanna Mann is obviously the very tired premise. Nobody cares anymore. It may have been funny once upon a time in Some Like It Hot or even in Tootsie, but today we're all numb to the idea since we can walk down the street and probably bump into a real-life cross-dresser. Hence, the novelty is long gone. The gag is old. The humor is done. You can't make an audience laugh with something that is now considering passé. However, it is a slightly new spin by tossing professional sports into the mix. I don't recall another movie when you had a cross-dressing athlete, and that was probably a good thing. It's bad enough to have hundreds of sport movies with little kids or animals as the stars, but to now toss in this variation, we've reached rock bottom. It's time to move on! As this is somewhat a "sports" movie, does that subplot help the story in any way? No. All of the basketball sequences are trite, far-fetched, and dull. It's a comedy, so any whiff of realistic ball play has been excised in order to create a more fantastical scene for the audience. Unfortunately, that doesn't work because we now expect more truth in this arena and not seeing that takes the film down another notch. Thus, there is nothing in the entire foundation of the film to make it work.
But I do have to admit that there are just a few things in the film that slightly redeem it from the cesspool. First time director Jesse Vaughn did take this incredibly weak material and assembled a nice-looking, well acted, quickly paced film. As dreadful as the material is, the movie actually does go by smoothly and isn't bogged down by superfluous scenes or gags (except the drag, of course). On the whole, the cast does a very nice job with their superficial characters and makes them charming, funny, and/or despicable as needed. I give special kudos to Miguel Nunez for his turn as Juwanna. Dressing up like a woman is certainly a hit/miss proposition (Wesley Snipes, anyone?), and he did quite an excellent job. He embodied enough feminism to bring it off, yet showed the necessary masculine humor to keep it amusing. Additionally, the North Carolina accent that he uses as Juwanna's voice is superb and solidly rounds out the believability of the character. I really loved that voice, and I think it's one of the best vocal impersonations I've stumbled across. And, perhaps the biggest saving grace for me is Vivica A. Fox. I've been a "fan" of "her work" since her role in ID4, so I enjoyed every minute of her presence here. Toss in the shower scene, the lingerie scene, and some workout scenes, and I was almost tempted to boost the judgment on this film…but a pretty face does not make a movie. As always, there is a downside, which in this case is the thoroughly disappointing Kevin Pollak. Normally a great supporting actor, it feels like he could not have cared less for the role and just showed up for coffee and doughnuts but got roped into doing a movie too.
There are just a few loose ends left to wrap up, which are actually two egregious aspects of this fine piece of cinema. As I briefly mentioned earlier, this movie has an urban flair to it. It's certainly not a Spike Lee movie, but there's a nuance that tilts the scales in that direction yet still allowing it to have mainstream appeal. For the most part, the movie shies away from anything too "racial," but there are two characters that are more stereotypical than they should be: the aunt and Latisha. Jamal's aunt is the typical bold, brazen, sassy elder black woman that is always present to give the titular character a hard time. While not as silly and over-the-top as other similar characters, it's still enough to put a dampener on most scenes she's in. You just want to shake your head because you've seen her too many times before; seriously, she even drags Jamal around by his ear. And then there's Latisha. For the entire movie, she's mainstream urban with an occasional burst of attitude, but then in the final scene she turns into a stereotypical sista! It's almost painful to watch this last minute transformation of her character; it's too dramatic a change. And the other point, which has nothing to do with the characters, is that there are actual "bleeps" in a scene to cover up some naughty words. I was quite surprised by this (though I know they couldn't keep the expletives and the PG-13 at the same time), and I thought they should have re-dubbed and/or edited the scenes. "Bleeping" is…unprofessional.
The disc itself is a decent offering from our friends over at Warner Brothers, who treat this dog far better than Paramount treats any of its top films! The anamorphic widescreen is a solid transfer that boasts rich, accurate colors, great definition and sharpness, and no blemishes. From the start, I was pleased with the transfer since, aside from just a very light touch of grain, there is no artifacting, pixelization, moiré patterns, edge enhancement, or other errors. However, during the very last scenes of the film, a bit of shakiness and some blotchiness in the color cropped up. That surprised me since the rest of the disc was quite good. It is brief but decidedly noticeable. Moving on to the audio track, you only have one choice: a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. Fortunately, this is a very good mix that really kicks. There's strong use of the subwoofer and surrounds while dialogue is cleanly presented through the center without any distortion. It's definitely a mix that rocks.
Perhaps in an effort to increase the value to this dud, Warner added a few bonus goodies to the package to entice you into spending your dollars here. Starting on the small side is the theatrical trailer, cast and crew bio section, and the music video for Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" (again, only in 2.0). These, as usual, add nothing to the movie experience (assuming you watch them in the first place). Moving up a half step, you get the "Press Day Featurette"; this is two-minute scene showing a radio station contest, judged by the cast of the movie, that was held the week of the premiere where people did drag and tried to shoot hoops. Cute, but it really adds nothing to the movie. At this "level" there's another two-minute featurette called "Premier at Mann's Chinese Theater." As the name implies, this is just a montage of cast interviews as they walk down the red carpet. And, yet again, this adds nothing to the disc so, aside from being filler, I'm not sure why it's here. Going up a full step is the immensely better "Behind the Scene Special." This 22-minute spot is actually mildly entertaining and funny, and you do get something of a true sneak peek at the film. But, it is a still a bit heavy on the PR side, so it isn't completely innocent. Skipping any further pretense of moving up steps, you're next bonus feature is nine extended and/or deleted scenes. On the whole, these add very little plot or development to the movie, and it's completely obvious why these scenes were removed from the film: adult humor. Each scene is filled with some racier content, and to maintain their PG-13 rating, it had to come out. Being the dog that I am, I'm always in favor of keeping in the saucier scenes.
Lastly, there are two audio commentaries for your listening pleasure. The first, which I really did enjoy, is a witty banter between director Jesse Vaughn and Miguel Nunez. They spoke about many interesting facts about their movie and often bashed the "powers-that-be" for making some "7-11" cuts in the film. It was nice to see someone knock the studio for a change. Most humorous of all is that the two somewhat fight against each other during scenes. For example, Vaughn will be talking and it'll change to a new scene; at that point, Miguel will say "be quiet so I can watch this scene" but Vaughn just keeps on talking. It's not antagonistic, just amusing. The second commentary is terrible, and is supplied by bit-supporting actor Tommy Davidson. Honestly, I didn't make it all the way through his talk because he had nothing to say, leaving quite a bit of dead air. Why does an actor who's in just a handful of scenes have his own track? A complete waste of time.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is a phat movie! Vivica is smokin' hot, Miguel is funnier than sh*t, and the whole drag/sports idea is da bomb.
I got to rethink cloning.—Jamal Jeffries
There is no reason to buy or rent this movie because the idea is old, worn-out, and stale. As tired as it is, I will admit that there are a few good laughs and some nice acting. But, let's just stay away from this disc so we don't give any sign of encouragement to the studio for giving the greenlight to such a lazy concept. If you happen to notice it on cable one day, it won't kill you to watch it.
Warner Brothers is found guilty and sentenced to one year for stretching this tired concept beyond its true life.
Jesse Vaughn, Miguel Nunez, and Vivica A. Fox are also found guilty for making this film. Their sentence is reduced to time served for their good work in this movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary with Director Jesse Vaughn and Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.
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