Chick flick Juwanna Mann's not all that
By Cole Smithey
Tootsie meets women's basketball in this feeble attempt at milking comedy from a story about a guy who cross dresses to salvage his sports career. Jamal Jeffries (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Life) already has plucked eyebrows when the movie begins, making it seem that perhaps he's already been making a conscious effort to get into women's basketball even before he humiliates himself by stripping naked at courtside, resulting in his dismissal from the men's league. The movie's humor is so thin that it barely even limps most of the time as Jamal learns about the nature of teamwork under the female persona of Juwanna Mann, while playing on a women's basketball team called the Charlotte Banshees.
To its credit, Juwanna Mann keeps the comedy fairly sanitary in a plot ripe with potential for 'blue' humor to overload the movie. Miguel Nunez does a perfectly respectable job of bridging the gap between outlandish sports star and talented country 'girl' basketball player. It's just that the narrative line is about as straight as they come, with hardly any surprises or inspired moments of hilarity to be had along the way. It's a high point when one of Juwanna's form-fitting falsies flies across the women's locker room to momentarily stick on the coach's office window.
Juwanna Mann promises moments of wincing embarrassments that never come to fruition. When Juwanna privately rubs lotion on the shoulders of teammate and love interest Michelle (Vivica A. Fox, Booty Call), Michelle never gets to return the favor. And when the time comes for Juwanna to shower up with 'her' female teammates, she merely does so while still wearing her complete basketball uniform without even receiving any taunting from teammates.
For all of Juwanna's awkwardness as a man doing his best to remain undiscovered under the constant scrutiny of teammates and basketball audiences, he's never quite awkward enough. One of the great things about Tootsie (1982) is watching Dustin Hoffman struggle in every scene with the duality he's disguising. Hoffman's performance has a momentum because you can see the gears in his head constantly churning with doubt and false bravado, perpetually preparing for any accident that might reveal his true identity. In Juwanna Mann, just as the movie's overt title announces, the suspension of disbelief is stretched beyond merely 'goofy' perimeters, but still not carried far enough.
Juwanna Mann is the kind of movie that audiences talk through. Indeed the crowd I screened it with carried on long and involved conversations throughout most of the movie, pausing only once in a while to verbally respond to something happening onscreen. Appearances from R&B singer Ginuwine and hip-hop babe Lil' Kim punctuate the movie as fleeting distractions that give a greater context to where the film is being targeted. Kim Wayans (Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood) spices up the movie as the Banshee's competitive forward Latisha Jansen.
Although its comedy never takes flight, Juwanna Mann does manage to squeak out an admirable message about loyalty and the spirit of teamwork. When Jamal is forced to choose between a chance to return to his former league or participate in the finals for the Banshees, he takes his time in considering his responsibilities before he acts. He's no longer the grandstanding, egotistical fool who tossed his jockstrap into the bleachers in the beginning of the movie. Civility has finally replaced arrogance and Jamal Jeffries has found respect for his chosen profession. That's not such a bad man to want after all.