She’s the Man

The main character in “She’s the Man” is so stupid that I’m amazed she’s able to take a shower without drowning. Her stupidity is a powerful, brutish force, a fog that hangs over the entire film like a stench.

I dislike my fair share of movies, but I don’t recall the last time a film made me clench my fists or pull my hair in frustration and exasperation. If “She’s the Man” had not been a public screening, I’d have yelled at it on several occasions, urging that dumb cow of a protagonist to fight her instincts and do something un-stupid for once.

“Inspired” by Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (in the same way that “From Justin to Kelly” was inspired by “Much Ado About Nothing”), “She’s the Man” tells the stupid story of a stupid girl named Viola (Amanda Bynes). Viola’s girls’ soccer team at her fancy Cornwall Prep Academy is disbanded due to lack of funding, and the boys’ team — captained by her jackface boyfriend Justin (Robert Hoffman) — says girls aren’t good enough to play on their team.

So Viola gets a brilliant idea, and by brilliant I mean really, really stupid. Her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk) has been kicked out of Cornwall and is supposed to start his senior year at rival school Illyria in two weeks. But since he’s going to sneak off to London to play with his band instead, Viola figures she’ll pose as him, take his place at Illyria, get on the soccer team, and beat those Cornwall jerks at the season opener!

All the ways a girl can get revenge on her boyfriend, and Viola chooses the one that’s most complicated, most elaborate, and most likely to fail. Granted, a lot of people in movies arrive at cross-dressing as a solution to their problems much sooner than you or I would, and I accept this as a time-honored comedy device. But in the GOOD movies where that device is used — and that’s about 1 percent of the 2,832 movies per year that use it — the characters at least TRY to pass as the opposite sex.

Viola doesn’t try. Well, I should say she tries, but since she’s so paralyzingly stupid, she can’t try very hard. I guess my dog “tries” to answer the telephone, too, but it doesn’t amount to much. When she remembers, Viola — clad in a short wig, fake sideburns and mannish eyebrows — speaks in a slightly deeper voice that, for some reason, often (but not always) involves a Texas accent. But that’s only when she remembers. She usually forgets and speaks in her normal voice and says normal girl things, then goes, “I mean, um, (clears throat), what’s up ‘DUDE’?” Her goal is to pass as a boy, but every five seconds or so she completely forgets that that’s her goal and reverts to acting like a girl.

As you have already predicted, Viola/Sebastian develops a crush on her Illyria roommate (it’s a prep school, so the kids live away from home), a hunky soccer player named Duke (Channing Tatum). Most of their exchanges follow this formula:

DUKE: I have trouble meeting girls.
VIOLA/SEBASTIAN: Why?! You’re hot!
DUKE: What?!?
VIOLA/SEBASTIAN: I mean — um — (Texas voice) you’re a cool dude.

I’m serious, it’s that formulaic: a girly statement, followed by “What?!?,” followed by a fumbling backpedal. Over and over again. Several times throughout the film. And Duke never suspects anything is amiss. There’s even a scene where “Sebastian” helps Duke role-play how he’ll talk to the girl he likes, with Sebastian playing the girl part. Duke remarks that Sebastian is waaaaay too good at impersonating a girl’s voice. Yet at the end of the film, when the truth is revealed, Duke is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FLABBERGASTED to learn Sebastian is really Viola. HE’S NEVER BEEN MORE STUNNED IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE! This outcome was COMPLETELY UNFORESEEABLE!!

During the occasional brief moments when Viola is remembering that she’s supposed to be a guy, her behavior is so bug-eyed and jittery that there’s no way anyone would buy it. The reason is that the director, Andy Fickman (making his theatrical feature debut), thinks that kind of overdone reaction will be funnier, so he’s instructed Bynes — who is no comic genius to begin with, I hasten to point out — to play everything up big-time. “Don’t just stammer ‘er, uh,'” I hear him telling her. “Make a panicked face and flail your hands a little when you say it! Yes! Just like that! Only BIGGER! More ridiculous! Yes! Now do that over and over again for 100 minutes! Now go out into the audience and STAB ERIC D. SNIDER IN THE FACE WITH A FORK!!” Then I wake up, cold and sweaty and unable to sleep for hours.

Duke’s crush is on a pretty girl named Olivia (Laura Ramsey), but Olivia thinks he’s just a dumb jock. (She’s right.) Instead, Olivia likes “Sebastian,” mostly because Sebastian is sensitive and doesn’t stare at her boobs and seems to know exactly how a girl thinks. Meanwhile, Duke meets the real Viola (he thinks she’s “Sebastian’s” sister) at a carnival, shares a moment with her, and thereafter considers her a good second choice if the Olivia thing doesn’t pan out. This leads to Viola-as-Sebastian trying to get Duke to forget about Olivia and go for Viola. Why it doesn’t lead to Duke realizing that Viola and Sebastian look even more identical than twins usually do, I don’t know. (See previous: dumb jock.)

My stars, I could go on all day. I hated this movie with an angry, fiery passion. I laughed exactly three times in 100 minutes: once at something David Cross said as the Illyria principal, once at a line from Viola’s father, and once at Viola/Sebastian’s reaction to being struck in the groin with a soccer ball. (“It burns!” is her best guess at why it’s supposed to hurt so bad.) And when even the brilliant David Cross can’t improve a movie, you know the movie is unsalvageable.

F (1 hr., 40 min.; PG-13, a little mild profanity, a little innuendo -- it's just barely into PG-13 territory.)