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When Hip-Hop Stars Sell Out, They Sell Out Hard

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 20, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 20, 2010 |

Just Wright is a rarity: An awful movie that I really, really don’t want to pan. It’d be like booing a junior-high production of Oklahoma. Just Wright is hopped up on so much earnestness that my critical faculties have been neutralized. If someone slaved over a stove to make you soufflé, you don’t tell them that you hate soufflé and throw it back in their face. You pretend to eat it with a smile on your face while feeding it to the dog under the table. That’s how I feel about Just Wright.. Only an achingly thin-skinned person could’ve written this movie (Michael Eliot), and I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Queen Latifah stars as Leslie Wright, a physical therapist who is perpetually stuck in the friend zone. She’s a “homegirl.” Guys like to hang out with her, they just don’t want to bone her. Meanwhile, her gorgeous but shallow God-sister and roommate, Morgan (Paula Patton, from Precious), lands all the guys, but what she really wants to do is marry an NBA player. In fact, she’s made that her profession.

Enter Scott McKnight (Common), the star player for the New Jersey Nets (and it shows you how tame this movie is that the NBA actually allowed them to use real team names). One night, after a game, Leslie meets Scott at a filling station, where she helps him to find his gas tank. So taken with her knowledge of basketball and of his career, Scott invites Leslie to his birthday party. She brings Morgan. At the party, while Leslie and Common appear to hit it off initially, Morgan swoops in and seduces Scott away in the most G-rated fashion imaginable. Leslie chalks it up to her bad romantic luck, and eventually, Morgan and Scott’s courtship leads to a quick engagement. At least until Scott injures his knee during the All-Star game. Morgan loses interest in what’s potentially a washed-up NBA player, while Leslie is brought in to rehabilitate Scott’s knee and get him back in time for the playoffs.

You can guess where this is going.

It’s bizarre to see a hip-hop star and big-screen menacing villain play the role of Prince Charming here. Common’s character is flawless. He’s kind, nice, gentlemanly, and hokey as hell. He likes jazz; he likes to play the piano, and he makes a mean chicken-noodle soup. His mother is fittingly played by Phylicia Rashad, as Just Wright shares a lot in common with the tone of “The Cosby Show.” It’s not a movie, really, that belongs on the big screen. It belongs on ABC Family (the director’s last film, appropriately, was a Lifetime movie).

But I’ll grant Just Wright this: It doesn’t play into black stereotypes; it defies them in a way that almost seems like it’s trying too hard to be the anti-Tyler Perry film. Where Tyler Perry’s films are filled with misogyny and melodrama, Sanaa Hamri’s (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2) film is gentle-spirited and drama-free. To a fault, really. There’s barely any conflict of which to speak in Just Wright, and there’s not a moment in the movie you can’t predict after the first five minutes. It’s a corny Cinderella film, where even the wicked step-sister is amiable and good-hearted.

Nevertheless, Queen Latifah — sans sass — is a glowing and likable presence. She’s all charm and smiles for 90 minutes, while Common is endearing in a Huxtable awww shucks sort of way. Pam Grier and “Grey’s Anatomy’s” James Pickens, Jr. round out the cast as Leslie’s generous and supportive parents, who are always available with a kind word.

Just Wright is bland, generic, and retchingly sweet. But it’s harmless and easy to watch, as long as you have something else to do while you’re watching it. Like listening to headphones and working on a crossword puzzle, preferably in a different room.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.