'Just Wright'

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You may not believe "Just Wright," but romantic comedy is about more interesting matters than plausibility or realism. How does the old song from "Damn Yankees" go? Miles and miles and miles of heart — that's the stuff. Add some wit, a relaxed and generous spirit, and some performers who hold the screen without holding it hostage, and there you have it.

Audiences may be stunned at the wholesale display and belief in niceness — true niceness, not caricatured — guiding this picture, written by Michael Elliot and directed, steadily and well, by Sanaa Hamri. Queen Latifah plays a Newark, N.J.-bred, Manhattan-employed physical therapist who, one night at the gas pump, makes the unexpected acquaintance of the nicest guy in the National Basketball Association, a (fictional) New Jersey Nets star played by Common.

At first the NBA's nicest guy only has eyes for therapist Leslie's gold-digging friend (Paula Patton of "Precious"). But when a knee injury threatens the player's livelihood, Leslie has two months to get the man she secretly loves into shape for the playoffs.

I like this film in part because it doesn't go full-cornball until the last quarter, and along the way, it actually finds ways to make everyone on-screen a human being. Roles that might've been miserably overstated in any number of other rom-coms, such as the materialistic vamp or the hawklike mother of the Nets star, are allowed some quirk and humanity here. It helps having performers of the caliber of Phylicia Rashad, Pam Grier and James Pickens Jr. turn up for supporting roles. You may wish Latifah's character were a little less of a doormat, but she's a shrewd enough performer to let you know, often silently, that she's nobody's doormat, no matter what the script's indicating.

Now: Is "Just Wright" too nice for success? Truly I hope not. The script might've benefited from a scene or two where Latifah's character cuts loose and tells her friend to shove it. But I've been conditioned, like everyone else, to expect such showcase moments from this genre. However modest, the reason "Just Wright" works is simple. It finds ways to let familiar characters move around inside a familiar premise like living, breathing, likable human beings.

mjphillips@tribune.com

MPAA rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)

3 stars

Cast: Queen Latifah (Leslie Wright); Common (Scott McKnight); Paula Patton (Morgan); Phylicia Rashad (Ella); James Pickens Jr. (Lloyd); Pam Grier (Janice)

Credits: Directed by Sanaa Hamri; written by Michael Elliot; produced by Debra Martin Chase, Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Running time: 1:51.

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