Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: "Just Wright"

"Just Wright" is a love story that's a little bit old-fashioned, a little bit sweet and a little bit bitchy. It actually could have used more bitchiness.

It's sort of a modern take-off on "Cyrano" -- a less than conventionally attractive hero acts as matchmaker for his gorgeous friend to woo the ravishing lady of quality he himself secretly adores. Except the genders are switched around, and there's no feeding of poetry lines.

Queen Latifah plays Leslie Wright, a 35-year-old physical therapist who hasn't found the right guy. Laid back, a rabid sports fan (especially basketball) and self-confident, Leslie is the girl every guy wants to be best friends with -- just not fall in love with.

Her godsister Morgan (Paula Patton) is equally interested in basketball -- not for the game, but for the opportunity to land an NBA player as a husband. One senses that any player would do, so long as his bank account is fat. Morgan has no job and no interest in finding one: Marrying rich is her vocation.

One day after a New Jersey Nets game, Leslie bumps into Scott McNight (Common), the team's star point guard, at a gas station. He can't figure out where the fuel tank lid is on his new Maybach. After she hooks him up, he invites her to his birthday party. (Although I wondered how a gal driving a rusty old Mustang has any expertise about a brand of car that starts around $350,000.)

Morgan insists on tagging along to the party, of course, and the minute Scott lays eyes on her, he's in full pursuit mode. Leslie is clearly disappointed, thinking they had a spark between them, but is big enough of a woman to stay out of the way.

Then Scott blows out his knee, and it appears his season, and maybe his career, are over. Leslie is hired to help him with rehab and Morgan, sensing greener pastures elsewhere, dumps Scott via a note on his bedstand. She even returns her engagement ring, which I thought out of character.

It's not too crazy a guess that Leslie and Scott grow close during his grueling rehabilitation, and he starts to realize that having your best friend for a mate isn't such a bad idea after all.

After Scott is back tearing up the basketball court, Morgan makes an 11th-hour return to claim her man again. I'll leave the outcome to those who buy a ticket. One wonders, though, what Morgan was doing during the intervening months. Certainly not working, so what did she do for money? Was she giving try-outs to other NBA ballers for her one-woman team?

Director Sanaa Hamri and screenwriter Michael Elliot deliver a reasonably entertaining romance, and I certainly enjoyed all the cameos but real NBA players like Dwayne Wade and Dwight Howard. Common, a rapper by trade, looks fairly comfortable in the basketball scenes -- although the moments when he dunks are carefully framed so as not to show where his feet are.

Queen Latifah has a wonderful onscreen presence -- audiences instinctively like her and root for her. Common, however, just doesn't have the acting chops for a romantic comedy. He smiles a lot -- I mean a lot, almost Joker-like -- but the emotion never seems to reach his eyes. His line readings are stiff and clunky. Perhaps he's got a future in the movies, but right now I'm not seeing it.

I wish "Just Wright" could have been more a meditation on attraction versus substance. There are a lot of terrific women out there who are not considered beautiful by society's standards, and spend their days alone when they could make someone very happy. (Vice-versa the other way.) I would have loved to see some scene where Scott has started to act upon his feelings for Leslie, and some of his buddies rag on him for dating someone who's not model-gorgeous.

I suppose it's too much to ask for contemplation of substance-vs.-looks in a movie that just wants to entertain.

By the way, you know "Just Wright" is a work of fiction because it depicts the New Jersey Nets making it to the NBA Finals to compete for a championship. The real-life team flirted with the worst record in league history this past season, and was just sold to a Russian oligarch.

2.5 stars out of four

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