Bringing absolutely no fresh angles to a time-tested formula that’s seemed particularly overworked of late (e.g. “Big Momma’s House,” “Sorority Boys,” etc.), cross-dressing yokfest “Juwanna Mann” may be the most routine spin yet on the basic “Charley’s Aunt”/”Some Like It Hot”/ “Tootsie” conceit. Innocuous item’s low-watt cast and the imminent arrival of another hoops comedy (“Like Mike”) ensure that this by-the-numbers time-killer will be benched from theatrical play posthaste. Ancillary biz should be livelier.
Miguel A. Nunez Jr. plays Jamal Jefferies, a pro basketball player who’s tops in his game but hits recurrent bottom in terms of arrogant and obnoxious behavior. Fresh off a six-day suspension, he promptly throws a public hissy fit so embarrassing — dropping trou to moon (and waggle) his disdain at both fans and TV cameras — that he’s ejected from the league permanently.
Given his reckless bling-blingy party lifestyle and no fresh cash coming in, the falling star is swiftly relieved of flash house and girlfriend (raunch rapper Lil’ Kim, in little more than a cameo). A few weeks cooling heels at tough-loving Aunt Ruby’s (Jenifer Lewis) manse back in North Carolina leave Jamal desperate to get back in the game. Spying a little girl busting moves on a driveway court, he has an inspiration: He’ll don drag to play in the women’s national league.
Totally formulaic yet indifferent to character logic niceties, Bradley Allenstein’s screenplay doesn’t allow the macho, skirt-chasing player a moment’s doubt before he skirts up. That obliviousness toward even its most obvious potholes (and situational opportunities) is typical of pic, which isn’t inept so much as just wholly void of imagination and esprit. Comedic inspiration here is seldom more than lukewarm, and the much more onerous stabs at dramatic sincerity are so rote you can’t imagine why the filmmakers bothered.
In his new incarnation as Juwanna Mann, Jamal proves as much of a ball-hog and egoist as before, to the chagrin of fellow Charlotte Banshees players — especially beauteous captain Michelle Langford (Vivica A. Fox), toward whom he immediately develops ill-hidden, non-platonic feelings. But she’s involved with R&B singing smoothie Romeo (thesped by real-life one Ginuwine).
Meanwhile “Juwanna” is avidly pursued, much to “her” distress, by uber-playa rapstar Puff Smokey Smoke (comic Tommy Davidson, pretty much taking Joe E. Brown’s “Some Like It Hot” role). Latter’s scenes are by far feature’s highpoints, with a double-date sequence at a restaurant briefly lifting laugh quotient out of the doldrums.
“Unmasked” at a playoff game, Jamal-Juwanna returns to offer the dispirited Banshees a groaningly cliched apology/motivational speech at halftime during their climactic season session.
Debuting feature director Jesse Vaughan, a vet of “In Living Color” and MTV docus/musicvids, lends pic pace and decent technical sheen but no notable personality, with performers clearly left to their own best judgments. Results flatter few. Davidson aside, only sparky perf is from Kim Wayans as the Banshee’s most in-ya-face lesbian. But she and other potentially colorful teammates get too little chance to strut their stuff.
Nunez is adequate albeit lacking the kind of stellar comic flamboyance that might have seized role’s ample opportunities and juiced mediocre material. Pollak, Lewis and a sexily clad Fox walk through parts that palpably give them little cause for joy.
Real-life WNBA and NBA players, as well as broadcast sports commentators and a briefly appearing Jay Leno, are deployed to no notable effect. Vaughan doesn’t bring any special dynamicism to court scenes, though pic’s milieu is credible enough. Tech and design aspects are solid; soundtrack of soul, disco and hiphop oldies is dully chosen, with Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” greeting Jamal’s new persona, and so forth.