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Published: Friday, 3/17/2006

Movie review: She's the Man ***

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Viola (Amanda Bynes, foreground right), disguised as Sebastian, tires to get Duke (Channing  Tatum) to concentrate on the game. Viola (Amanda Bynes, foreground right), disguised as Sebastian, tires to get Duke (Channing Tatum) to concentrate on the game.
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Among the joys of reading William Shakespeare, and particularly Twelfth Night, aside from the profundities about human nature, the gamesmanship and unwitting courtships, the romantic longing and comedies of error - aside from all the good writerly stuff, what I really like about the Bard is how the guy knew that if you put a women's soccer team in a scene, you should always put them in bikinis, too.

So many forget this rule.

Is it why literature is dead?

She's the Man remembers.

Along with Shakespeare's rule that insight into human behavior has no place in a teen comedy. And every teen movie should end with The Big Game, and every mom in every teen movie belongs to the Junior League. The Bard also had a gay hairdresser as a best friend; many people don't know this, but it's why that convention became so popular.

She's the Man is dutiful. All of the above make the cut. Yet it stars gifted comic actress Amanda Bynes, a sarcastic bundle of googly eyerolls and 11th-grade superiority - Lucille Ball in Abercrombie & Fitch. Who is she? Only the biggest star to come out of Nickelodeon, though pushing 20 now; the way to remember her from all of the other Nick alums populating theaters is she's the one who looks like Jennifer Aniston, only stung by a hornet.

She plays Viola, a prep-school soccer player who dresses like a boy and transfers schools when the girls' soccer program is cut from her school's sports budget. At her new school (she just disappears from her old school, without a question asked) she gets a hunky roommate named Duke, as uncertain of this weird "guy" with the odd accent as we are. She slaps on sideburns. She buries her hair under a modish wig. She looks like a Beatle going through a transgender surgery.

She also falls for Duke.

Duke falls for Olivia.

Olivia, meanwhile, is in love with Sebastian - who is actually Viola imitating her brother, Sebastian. If this sounds familiar, it's not because Hollywood is addicted to formulas. It's because Shakespeare invented a lot of those formulas. In this case, She's the Man takes its framework from Twelfth Night, right down to the character's names.

If nothing else, it's an opportunity to stage a soccer game in bikinis while scrawling across the bottom of the movie screen "Inspired by Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare."

Take that, Western literature.

Besides, there is plenty else:

Though I admit I trudged to this thing as if led to a torture rack, She's the Man immediately jumps to my list of cute disposable junk I will watch in 20 and 30-minute chunks every time it's on cable, even if Citizen Kane is just a channel away.

It's written by the team that morphed The Taming of the Shrew into the fitfully memorable 10 Things I Hate About You, and though it's not as confident as Clueless (based on Jane Austen's Emma), it's not as generic as Get Over It (adapted from A Midsummer Night's Dream) - or as faithful as any of them. It's sort of nuts.

Sunny, but nuts. Not Kirsten-Dunst-crazed-cheerleader-mask-of-joy nuts. Cheap nuts, the way '80s teen comedies were when the studios didn't care who starred in them or what the script was about and you got the feeling they were shooting over a long weekend before the tap in the keg ran out.

I'm reminded of a more chaste version of Just One of the Guys: It starred no one of circumstance but plenty of teenagers having sex and looking 27 years old. It had the same fast and loose, anything-goes vibe this flick has.

Which is to say, it was bad.

Part of that fast-and-loose feel came from the fact a lot of those '80s teen flicks were rated R for raunchy, and She's the Man is a timid PG-13. So maybe I'm grading on a scale, but you see the raunch in their eyes. They're too old to hide it.

The guy who plays Duke (Channing Tatum) pops up later this year as a sociopath in the Sundance picture A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints; he's in full revolt here against the kind of blah roles romantic interests usually have to play in movies with teen stars. Nothing about Bynes' prep-school dude impression convinces. Rather than hide it, he's all narrowed-eyes and verge-of-cracking-up smirking.

His face reads with thoughts that Bynes isn't allowed. She never gets to hear what teenage guys talk about when women aren't in the room; she barely gets to pretend she knows. Her boy voice is part Pinocchio, part backwater blues singer, part Tennessee Williams. She is so unconvincing as a boy, her failure itself becomes what's entertaining - sort of the way straight characters in old Jerry Lewis movies never noticed flailing Jerry, only earnest Jerry.

So it's not Shakespeare.

So sue me. It's a stitch.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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