A professional basketball star's outrageous antics get him kicked out of the league. Desperate to get back to the game he loves, he disguises himself as a woman and tries out for the Women's United Basketball Association--and makes it.
As the opening song belts out, fast cars, champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact, Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics, however, reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league, and before he can say ''slam-dunk,'' Jeffries loses his house, his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best, Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs, dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team, he feels torn between his obligation to his team, the Banshees, and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie, you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly, Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor, but is an entertaining twist on an old classic, with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease, but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners, the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle, a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role, she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels, Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity, so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan, who directed a season of In Living Color, makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer, I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline, which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short, sweet and non-offensive. While some characters, like Puff Smokey Smoke, are a bit over the top, Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence, like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends, but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.
Juwanna Mann, an NBA-meets-Tootsie-type comedy, is a surprisingly funny take on an old story. While it's not outrageously hilarious, Miguel A. Nunez Jr. steals the show as an unlikely cross-dressing hero.