Two out of five stars
Rated PG/111 min.
The moment two people destined to fall in love first see each other is referred to by screenwriters as The Meet Cute and it gets steadily more ridiculous every year. Gone is the simple bumping into her at the bookstore or simultaneously grabbing the same item at the supermarket. In recent years, we had Matthew McConaughey saving Jennifer Lopez from a runaway dumpster in The Wedding Planner and Hugh Grant falling in love with Drew Barrymore after she waters his plants in Music & Lyrics. Then there’s the awkwardly titled Just Wright, where a physical therapist (Queen Latifah) meets the object of her affection at a gas station: he’s an NBA star (played by rapper Common) who doesn’t know how to pump gas in his new car and, wouldn’t you know, his biggest fan is at the next pump to show him how its done. Right then and there, their eyes meet, a date is set and I sat there wondering if this has ever happened to someone at the Pukalani Shell Station…or anywhere else in the world.
After that, Common injures himself on the court and needs Latifah’s rehabilitation expertise to help him get his game back, both on the court, and in his heart. Ugh.
It starts off corny and predictable, becomes an appealing date movie, then goes right back to being corny and predictable. This is the kind of movie where there’s a montage showing Latifah happily rolling around in bed and making googly faces at the camera. There’s also a scene where she gives her man a pep talk during an especially tense game and, shockingly, he ends up playing better than he has all season.
I’ve been a Queen Latifah fan most of my life: I still have some of her rap albums on cassette and thought she showed promise as an actress from the start, even when the material didn’t match her talent. Yet she’s at her best in risky character roles, like her work in Set It Off and Chicago, rather than cheesy star vehicles. Her performance isn’t bad but she can be an overly self-aware actress; like Barbara Streisand, her diva persona sometimes stifles the character.
Common’s inexperience as an actor is obvious but he has a laid-back charm that works well for the role and the film’s mid-section—where he hires Latifah to treat his injury and sweeps her off her feet—is strong because the two make such a likable screen couple. Their courtship is sweet and pleasant but devoid of passion, which can be partly blamed by the movie’s tame PG rating.
Unfortunately, just when Common, Latifah and the movie were about to win me over, it snapped out of its spell and reverted to Romantic Comedy Cliches 101. Formulas become formulas for a reason—because they work—but how many Meet Cutes can you stomach before things get ugly?