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Bynes as a boy amusingly makes the 'Man'

I'm not that familiar with the ins and outs of Title IX, but if one minute I were on a girls' varsity soccer team and the next minute the team suddenly, male-chauvinistically didn't exist, I'd round up the other girls up for some sort of class-action suit.

Viola, the miffed soccer heroine Amanda Bynes plays in her new movie, has a nuttier idea. She dumps her boyfriend and joins a rival school's team disguised as her twin brother.

The ensuing shenanigans are cataloged in ''She's the Man," a screwball comedy that made me wish I were 13 again, because this is precisely the kind of movie I would have gone nuts for in the ninth grade. I probably wouldn't have known to care that the movie crams William Shakespeare's ''Twelfth Night" into a generic American prep school. I would have just laughed at Bynes's boy drag, which makes her look like a Little Rascal with Irina Slutskaya's haircut.

Viola enrolls at Illyria Prep when her brother Sebastian (James Kirk) sneaks off to London for 12 days to play with his band and asks her to cover for him. But Viola's craftier than that. To become ''Sebastian," she enlists her friends, one of whom happens to be a stylist with a confusing resemblance to Jude Law.

At Illyria, the disguised Viola meets her brother's roommate, Duke (Channing Tatum), who notices the tampons in Sebastian's shoe. (They're for nosebleeds.) Later, the balding headmaster (David Cross, of all people) catches Viola scratching her wig and they have a heart-to-heart about coming to terms with hair loss.

On her mild WB sitcom, ''What I Like About You," Bynes pretty much plays it straight, but this movie is a license for outlandishness. She delivers a male impersonation that's a hilarious mockery of white suburban masculinity and what a blank slate it can be. In the same sentence, sometimes in the same word, Sebastian sounds like a stoned hip-hop beach bum and a theater queen, voicing lines like ''You know it, brah!"

Initially, Duke and the rest of the team find Sebastian's shtick annoying. But after Viola and her stylist concoct a scenario in which two of her hot girlfriends pretend to be obsessed with Sebastian, Duke and the boys worship the impostor. They remain understandably perplexed by his voice's shifting tone and how a soccer ball to the crotch doesn't faze him.

The movie might take the Cliffs Notes approach to Shakespeare (the script is smart, the direction lousy), but the navigation of high-school social politics is refreshingly direct. ''She's the Man" says some funny and true things about who is OK to like and who's not. It also happily undercuts its stock characters by threatening to turn them into recognizable people. Duke looks like the quintessential conceited pretty-boy jock, but whenever Olivia (Laura Ramsey) is around he turns to spineless goop.

Olivia doesn't want him, though. She, apparently, prefers her men a little more androgynous, and makes a play for Sebastian. Viola, meanwhile, is falling for Duke and still has to maintain her day job as a reluctant debutante.

"She's the Man" follows ''Clueless," ''O," and ''10 Things I Hate About You" in repurposing literary classics for an American high school setting. ''10 Things" was based on ''The Taming of the Shrew" and might be worth revisiting just to see Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt before they took on riskier roles.

Some actors in ''She's the Man" are also probably headed for bigger, darker things. But I hope Bynes keep it light a little longer. She gawks, mugs, struts, sashays, bugs out, flails, and apes, all while staying pretty cute. It's as if Jerry Lewis learned all his moves by watching Jennifer Aniston on ''Friends."

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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