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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

She's the Man

Cast: Viola: Amanda Bynes, Duke: Channing Tatum, Olivia: Laura Ramsey, Dinklage: Vinnie Jones, Gold: David Cross, Daphne: Julie Hagerty, Justin: Robert Hoffman, Monique: Alex Breckenridge

Forget about that "inspired by William Shakespeare's play 'Twelfth Night.' " Other than using several characters' names, "She's the Man" borrows little more than the common Elizabethan device of a gender-crossing disguise. Nevertheless, there is something innately funny about a man trying to act like a woman (recall "Some Like It Hot" and "Tootsie") or women masquerading as men (many instances, of course, in Shakespeare and more recently in the films "Victor/Victoria" and "Connie and Carla"). Yet "She's the Man" fails to exploit the myriad comedic possibilities, settling instead for broad, unconvincing slapstick aimed at 12-year-olds and gags Shakespeare would have rejected as ancient.

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The DreamWorks Pictures release will appeal to young girls, which should give "She's the Man" a couple of good weeks in theaters. But she's going to have much more success in home video. A major plus is a good-looking and eager cast; the drawback is they suffer under the misdirection of one Andy Fickman.

Evidently, Fickman, a Los Angeles stage director with one cable feature ("Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical"), believes no scene has been truly directed unless activity is so strenuous that actors hyperventilate. Naturally, subtlety flies out the window and characters turn into buffoons.

Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes of TV's "What I Like About You") lives to play soccer, but her high school has cut the girls' program. What's more, her supposed boyfriend, fellow soccer player Justin (Robert Hoffman), displays his chauvinism when he refuses to support her goals. Then several characters drop hints the size of anvils that Viola looks "just like" her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk, who really doesn't look that much like her). He conveniently has taken a powder to London unbeknownst to their divorced parents to play in a musical festival.

So Viola pretends to be Sebastian and enrolls at his new prep school so she can try out for their soccer team. There are a couple of minor problems here: None of actors at this high school looks younger than 24. And why do they live in dorms?

All this, of course, is a setup for Viola to learn how to walk, talk, dress and live like a man in a male dorm -- which still might have made for good comedy if the filmmakers had given it a chance. But they, or possibly Bynes' agent, refused to let the actress' long hair be cut, so she wears a ridiculous wig that would fool no one. Nor has makeup or the costume department come up with anything to make her into a credible male. And Fickman never lets her drop her femininity, so the whole cross-gender disguise gets lost.

Intriguing complications in Ewan Leslie and Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith'sCQ the latter are a team/ep screenplay can only hint at the movie that might have been. Duke (Channing Tatum of "Coach Carter") grows to enjoy heart-to-heart chats with his surprisingly sensitive roomie and teammate Sebastian, causing his roommate to soften toward him in ways he could not imagine. He confesses to him his infatuation with school hottie Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who in turn yearns for -- yes -- Sebastian.

Meanwhile, Sebastian's ex-girlfriend Monique (Alex Breckenridge) continues to make untimely appearances even as the school's ugly duckling Eunice (Emily Perkins) pines for every male, and that includes Sebastian.

Bynes, Tatum and Ramsey appear to have what it takes to do inspired work in these roles. Yet because their director favors shtick over character, you only catch glimpses of their talent.

Many of the peripheral characters are stuck with embarrassing caricatures. This includes Julie Hagerty in a virtual reprise of her recent "Just Friends" ditzy mother, David Cross' over-the-top principal and Robert Torti's cartoon coach.

Production values on this Vancouver shoot fail to rise above the telefilm level.

*Review by Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter


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