Combustible Celluloid
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With: Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, James Pickens Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier, Laz Alonso, Mehcad Brooks, Michael Landes
Written by: Michael Elliot
Directed by: Sanaa Hamri
MPAA Rating: PG for some suggestive material and brief language
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/14/2010

Just Wright (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Unlike her cohorts in the excruciating romantic comedies Leap Year, When in Rome and The Back-Up Plan, Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is not desperate. She does not expend every fiber of her being pining for a boyfriend. She's not frantic or an uptight control freak. When she wakes up in the morning, she casually makes breakfast and goes to work. She works as a physical therapist and drives a beat-to-crap Ford Mustang. When she leaves the house, she moves with confidence, but with a slight almost imperceptible sadness. She never begs for our love. Instead, she earns it right then and there.

Then there's the movie's villain, who isn't really a villain. She's Leslie's god-sister, the smokin' hot Morgan (Paula Patton, the teacher in Precious). Leslie and Morgan genuinely get along, even though Leslie sometimes sighs and shakes her head. Morgan's ambition in life is to marry an NBA player and retire in style, enjoying shopping, living in a mansion and her courtside "player's wife" seats. Leslie is a die-hard New Jersey Nets fan, and the sisters attend a game against the Orlando Magic. The Nets' star player is Scott McKnight (Common), who is a top point-getter via slam-dunks, free throws and even three-pointers. Director Sanaa Hamri (Something New, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2) speeds up her basketball footage, possibly because Common, who stands 6'1", looks a little short out there. Regardless, the footage feels authentic, and Common passes the test.

Anyway, Scott runs into Leslie after the game, and they make a friendly connection. He invites her to his birthday party, and Morgan tags along. Morgan puts all the right moves on Scott and wins him over. Hamri gives us a "dating" montage in which Morgan looks great in magazine spreads and climbing into limos. Unfortunately Scott injures his knee during the all-star game; this comes at the worst possible time, since his ten-year contract with the Nets is almost up, and his team begins weighing the possibility of not re-signing him. Morgan smells trouble and bolts, but not before Leslie is hired to be Scott's tough-love physical therapist.

So, yes, Morgan is selfish, but she never does anything deliberately evil or malicious -- she's not one dimensional -- and Leslie always accepts her with a hug, no matter how cruel the circumstances. Another plus is that the movie does away with the "best friend" character(s) who spend all their time worrying about the heroine and her dating status. For that, we have Leslie's mom (Pam Grier), who -- really -- just behaves like a regular mom. Scott, on the other hand, is probably a bit too perfect. He's an NBA star with a huge house and tons of money and good looks. He's really nice and polite and likes jazz music. He even drives his own car and pumps his own gas. Fame has presumably not gone to his head. Yet he's in his 30s and he's a bachelor? Hmm.

That's a small issue, though. Common and Latifah generate some real chemistry onscreen, especially during their training/recovery sequences. Hamri keeps them isolated from other characters, and relaxed in each other's presence. (In one very nice, sweet little sequence, Leslie comes down with a cold and Scott must take care of her for a change.) Blessedly, there's no lie waiting to be unraveled, and the only other shoe waiting to drop is Morgan. Hamri lets her tone get a little slow and soggy during the last 20 minutes, but she has already won us over, so she's forgiven. Hamri has grown more and more confident over her last three pictures, and she has learned to calmly focus on characters and small moments. She has created an easygoing atmosphere, without the aid of sledgehammers and pratfalls, in which characters can fall sweetly in love.

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