“She’s the Man” is a high-school update of “Twelfth Night” in which the pretty-boy jock recites Shakespeare’s famous lines — “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” — in the middle of the biggest soccer game of the year, of all places.
(Yes, he’s very sensitive and thoughtful beneath that dim, chiseled exterior.)
Lofty source material indeed, and just the latest in a series of teenage twists on the Bard, following “10 Things I Hate About You,” which was based on “The Taming of the Shrew,” and “O,” based on “Othello.”
But what this wacky gender-bending comedy resembles even more closely is “Just One of the Guys” from 1985, in which a high-school hottie goes undercover as a boy to win a big journalism contest and prove that pretty girls have brains, too. It was one of those throwaway movies that you’d nonetheless find yourself compelled to watch whenever it came on cable, and was notable only for the presence of perennial ’80s-movie villain Billy Zabka.
Here, Amanda Bynes takes over for Joyce Hyser (Who? Exactly.) when her character, Viola, pretends to be her twin brother, Sebastian, in order to play soccer at Illyria Prep. The premise essentially sets up a series of uncomfortable moments in which Viola-as-Sebastian tries to avoid undressing in front of other people.
Bynes is likable enough, though, to carry it off, even though her version of masculinity is sort of cringe-inducing in its twitchiness. Her bowl-cut wig accentuates her gigantic eyes and chipmunk teeth, and her boy-speak comes out as a sporadic Southern twang mixed with surfer-dude droppings like, “You know it, brah.”
It’s not exactly Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica” — but then again, it’s not trying to be. That much is clear from the shrill, frantic nature of Andy Fickman’s direction, and his frequent reliance on the montage (for Viola’s makeover, for her soccer training, etc.).
There is one particularly well-orchestrated scene, though, in which Viola and her effeminate stylist pal Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) conspire to have all their pretty female friends fawn over “Sebastian” to make him look like a stud at the pizza parlor in front of the guys who think he’s a geek.
Viola naturally falls for one of them — her roommate and teammate, Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) — who has a crush on the beautiful blond Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who secretly likes (you guessed it) Sebastian. All the obligatory misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity ensue.
David Cross is wonderfully weird as always playing the school’s headmaster, and Julie Hagerty as usual plays the ditzy mom who wants nothing more than for Viola to be a ladylike debutante.
Bynes obviously has an innate gift for physical comedy, and at age 19 already has honed her timing over years of television work (“All That,” “The Amanda Show,” “What I Like About You”) — which is precisely what makes you want to see her end up in the movies with someone who’s her equal in terms of wit and spark.
As in Bynes’ 2003 film “What a Girl Wants,” “She’s the Man” wraps her up in a tidy romantic-comedy package with a generically non-threatening piece of Teen Beat eye candy. What her characters should want — what they deserve — is a real man on every level.