A drag in more ways than one, Jesse Vaughan’s cross-dressing basketball comedy has all the energy of a game played at half-speed and decided before the second quarter buzzer has sounded. “Juwanna Mann” is as limp a variant on the old “Some Like It Hot” formula as the college farce “Sorority Boys” was a few months ago. “Some Like It Schlock” would be more like it.
The script, courtesy of a homeboy by the name of Bradley Allenstein, is about an arrogant, self-centered, ball-hogging UBA (=ersatz NBA) star named Jamal (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.) who’s bounced from the league because of his most recent display of temper (which involves his fully disrobing before the crowd after being ejected from a game). Broke and dumped by his live-in babe (Kimberly “Lil’ Kim” Jones), he finds himself living with his hard-nosed aunt and dissed by everyone, including his shark-like agent Lorne Daniels (Kevin Pollak). But Jamal dresses as a dame and tries out for a women’s team, easily making the squad and becoming a star in no time under the oh-so-funny name of Jawanna Mann. Over time his dismissive attitude toward his teammates dissipates, and he’s romantically attracted to one of them, Michelle Langford (Vivica A. Fox). Unfortunately, she’s the girlfriend of a two-timing Lothario named Romeo (Ginuwine), who also happens to be best friend to a gaudily-dressed, idiotic rapper called Puff Smokey Smoke (Tommy Davidson, boasting a whole row of gold teeth), the Joe E. Brown surrogate who comes on to Jawanna, much to his/her distress. In the end, of course, Jamal’s imposture is revealed and he has to make one of those smarmy, dripping-with-sincerity speeches to prove that he’s a changed man (internally, this time), and thus worthy of forgiveness, acceptance and reinstatement on his old team.
There’s not a turn in the plot of “Juwanna Mann” that has the slightest degree of surprise or invention, and what humor is to be found in it is of the crass, loud, vulgar variety. Nunez mugs ferociously throughout and in any event is far too short to be plausible as a pro basketball player; Fox is mostly petulant and prissy. Davidson, once so amusing on “In Living Color,” is reduced to doing the most obvious and insulting sort of caricature as the lascivious rapper, while his old TV colleague Kim Wayans is incredibly broad as Latisha Jansen, one of the team members (her final scene is a total embarrassment). Pollak does the frazzled agent bit as well as one could expect, but it’s merely a cheap imitation of the wonderful cameo that Sydney Pollack supplied against the similarly cross-dressing Dustin Hoffman nearly two decades ago. In his feature debut, Vaughan’s direction is alternately crude and flaccid, and from the technical perspective the movie has a distinctly penurious look. It also follows current practice among so many bad movies of attaching at the end a string of out-takes that are even less funny than what made the final cut.
“Juwanna Mann,” it might be noted, is also insulting to women’s sports, coming so long after the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match of 1973. But to complain of that overmuch would be to take the movie far too seriously. “Jawanna” skip this miserable “Tootsie” knockoff.