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'Night' lite Teen film moves Shakespeare to a loss of words

Let's say it right off the bat: A movie about cross-dressing is always good for a few laughs. Some for fewer than others.

"She's the Man" falls into the latter category; think of it as a sort of "Some Like It Lukewarm" for a generation clueless about Jack Lemmon or Marilyn Monroe. Or about "Shakespeare in Love" for that matter.

In this update of the Bard's "Twelfth Night," Nickelodeon sweetheart Amanda Bynes plays Viola, an aspiring soccer player who decides to masquerade as her twin brother at his boarding school when funding for her own school's girls' soccer team is cut. (Her twin, Sebastian -- James Kirk -- is cutting school for two weeks to pursue his own dream, to play music.)

As Viola/Sebastian becomes more comfortable as a guy, she earns the respect of her roommate, Duke (Channing Tatum) and the rest of the soccer team. She also earns the admiration of Olivia (Laura Ramsey), upon whom Duke has a serious crush. In the process of trying to convince Olivia to date Duke, Viola falls for him herself. Add in the real Sebastian's girlfriend, another male suitor of Olivia's, and Viola's ex-boyfriend, and you've got something more than a romantic triangle -- more like a romantic Star of David. As the characters interact, a modicum of mild, predictable hilarity occasionally ensues.

Promos for "She's the Man" compare it to an earlier Shakespeare update, "Ten Things I Hate About You," but despite having had some of the same writers on board, "She's the Man" lacks the subtlety and sophistication that made "Ten Things" more than the usual toss-away teen flick.

The plot setup drags and seems even longer because of the clumsy dialogue and overacting. Fortunately, things improve once the romantic entanglements begin to heat up and the actors can deliver more meaty lines with less strain.

Unlike many teen movies, "She's the Man" manages to be hip without sexual overtones. Chalk up the PG-13 rating to one sight gag with a feminine hygiene product, one double-entendre that will slip past most kids, and the mere suggestion of nudity in nonsexual context.

Bynes shines as the androgynous Viola/Sebastian. After making an impressive debut at age 10 on Nickelodeon's comedy revue show "All That," Bynes was given her own show on the kids' network, on which she proved herself to be a natural at physical comedy -- like a Tracey Ullman in a training bra. Bynes -- with her long, lanky limbs and her big-and-round-as-dinner-plate eyes -- really works the pratfalls, funny walks and goofy accents in "She's the Man." Though at times her portrayal of girl-playing-boy is overly broad and somehow off, Bynes never ceases to engage. That she has not forgotten her core audience and has avoided turning into a spotlight-glomming sexpot like peers Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan should make her even more appealing to the parents of the preteens who will flock to this film in droves.

But Bynes is not the only teenybopper attraction in "She's the Man." Within a half-hour of seeing this film, every female between the ages of 8 and 80 will have made the hunky Tatum their screensaver. Ramsey makes a luminous Olivia; in fact, most of the young performers demonstrate real acting chops.

The adults are a different matter, leaving chomp marks all over the scenery. Julie Hagerty, as Viola's shallow mother, is the worst offender, overacting as if she has never disembarked from "Airplane!"

It's too bad that "She's the Man" has such a graceless, clunky script, and that the adult performers so blatantly try to outact their younger, more talented co-stars, because otherwise "She's the Man" could have been a much better film.

2 stars (out of 4)

SHE'S THE MAN

STARRING: Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, Laura Ramsey, Julie Hagerty

DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for some sexual material.

THE LOWDOWN: Aspiring soccer star masquerades as her twin brother so she can play for his school's team and becomes the center of a romantic triangle.

e-mail: bsullivan@buffnews.com

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