Fracture is definitely not a whodunit. From the get-go you know exactly who the murderer is: one Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) who after discovering his beautiful younger wife (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair plans her murder--perfectly. At first Crawford readily admits to shooting his wife and is arrested and arraigned. When the case is handed to ambitious Assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) who already has one foot out the door to join the high-stakes corporate law world he thinks it’s a slam dunk. But nothing is as simple as it seems. Beachum finds out--in court no less--that Crawford’s wife was sleeping with the arresting officer Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) who never knew the true identity of his lover until he saw her lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The confession now seemingly coerced is null and void thank you very much plus the murder weapon is missing. D’oh! Thus begins a tense duel of intellect and strategy between the mind-game-playing Crawford and his wily quarry Willy who isn’t about to lose this case on technicalities. Or is he? Hopkins rarely ever disappoints even if the movie he’s in stinks to high heaven (remember Bad Company?). But when this Welsh actor gets a chance to really sink his teeth into something--say a well-written script in which he plays someone slightly unsavory--watch out. As Crawford Hopkins relishes every wink smirk and stone-cold moment of a man obviously affected by the knowledge that his wife is cheating on him. And keeping up every step of the way is Oscar nominee Gosling (Half Nelson) who is quickly becoming one of this generation’s better actors. It may be because he recognizes quality work when he reads it. Gosling never gives a false reaction as Willy whether it’s realizing he’s been duped in court quietly coming up with his own game plan or smiling sexily at his new boss--played vacantly by Die Another Day’s Rosamund Pike. In fact everyone else in the film pales in comparison to these two actors' intense performances. But that doesn’t really doesn’t harm Fracture in any way. Watching Fracture reminds you of another smart but tense courtroom drama: 1996's Primal Fear. Maybe that’s because Fracture and Primal Fear were both helmed by director Gregory Hoblit a guy who obviously understands how to work a legal thriller to its fullest advantage. Empowered by a fast-paced intelligent script from Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers Fracture isn’t about twisting the plot around in convoluted ways and trying desperately to trick the audience as many of these types of movies end up doing. Instead Hoblit hands in a basic premise--a man getting away with murder--and allows the action to unfold without baggage as Willy Beachum works out a way to nail his man. You might be able to figure it out before the climax is reached but that’s not the point. You’ll enjoy the journey to its conclusion nonetheless.
As the opening song belts out fast cars champagne and caviar are what professional basketball player Jamal Jeffries (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.) is all about. In fact Jeffries is so taken by his own success that he doesn't sign autographs but uses a stamp. His Dennis Rodman-style antics however reach a breaking point when he strips during a game in front of millions of fans and flings his jock strap into the seats. The stunt gets him thrown out of the league and before he can say "slam-dunk " Jeffries loses his house his cars and his girlfriend. Desperate to work again at the one thing he does best Jeffries comes up with the mother of all schemes: He shaves his legs dabs on mascara and tries out for the women's league--and it works. But as he builds friendships and gains the trust of the women on his team he feels torn between his obligation to his team the Banshees and his need to return to a normal life. If you've seen the 1982 comedy Tootsie you know exactly how this film plays out. Surprisingly Juwanna Mann is not crammed with bad slapstick humor but is an entertaining twist on an old classic with a delightfully sweet storyline.
Nunez (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) not only pulls off the Jamal/Juwanna character with ease but he pretty much steals the show here. His character comes off as endearing rather than obnoxious because he takes his role as a woman seriously and is never condescending about playing in the women's league. Nunez also delivers some great one-liners the best being when he is fighting off advances from the gold-toothed Puff Smokey Smoke. Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) plays Michelle a fellow player whom Jeffries develops feelings for. Although it's hard to buy the sweet and almost delicate Fox in such an athletic role she pulls it off--but there is not all that much chemistry between her and Nunez. As Jeffries' crass sports agent Lorne Daniels Kevin Pollak (3000 Miles to Graceland) is seedy with just the right touch of humanity so his character is not completely despicable. The most cartoonish and unlikable character is Tommy Davidson's (Bamboozled) Puff Smokey Smoke. He has some funny lines but is too far-fetched to be believable.
Jesse Vaughan who directed a season of In Living Color makes his directorial debut with Juwanna Mann. Judging from the trailer I thought the film would be a low-brow comedy with a lot of overdone men-in-heels humor. I was instead pleasantly surprised by the film's storyline which--although it is a complete take on Tootsie--is short sweet and non-offensive. While some characters like Puff Smokey Smoke are a bit over the top Nunez's Jamal/Juwanna character is never clownish and well developed enough that you can't help but feel for his/her predicament. Some scenes appear to have a Klumps influence like the scene in which Jeffries is playing cards with his aunt and a gang of her senior friends but the overall effect is a moderately funny film peppered with some slightly funnier moments. Newcomer Bradley Allenstein had the sense to deliver a sweet comedy screenplay that was short enough and knew when to quit.