Ah, February, ’tis the season of Cupid and lame romantic comedies. Take “What Men Want” - please! It’s a total chick-flick opposite of what any guy (or woman, for that matter) would want, in spite of a totally game performance from Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures”).
She’s Ali (as in Muhammad) Davis, a tough-as-nails sports agent fighting for a partner position in a male-dominated (read: sexist) agency. After being bonked on the head, Ali can magically hear men’s thoughts. She uses her newfound superpower to woo a big-fish client, land the cute single dad, and infiltrate the boys club at SWM sports management. This coming just after being passed over for partner by her boss (ex-Oklahoma football star Brian Bosworth) who thinks she “doesn’t connect with men” and offers she should “stay in her lane.” Yes, the cultural gender shifts are very on the nose.
The premise is a gender-flip of Mel Gibson’s 2000 hit comedy, “What Women Want.” And, like that movie, penned by chick-flick maven Nancy Meyers, it’s not as clever as you’d expect. Meyers’ senario gets a makeover from a trio of writers devoid of an original idea. For example, we’ve got a trio of best friends (Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson), an impossibly gorgeous romantic interest (Aldis Hodges), a wise elder (Richard Roundtree) and a put-upon gay assistant (Josh Brener, the best thing in the movie). The tropes don’t end there. The script also includes a wedding! And a grand gesture! And, well it doesn’t matter. No one goes into a movie like this for its twisty Shyamalan-like plot. Instead, director Adam Shankman (“The Wedding Planner,” “Hairspray”) spoon feeds the usual drivel and deliverance. It’s formulaic and slap-sticky until going all soft in the end. Along the way, Shankman flails at relevancy by giving the plot a #MeToo bent with FLOTUS-like jargon from Melania Trump’s “locker-room talk” to Michelle Obama’s “going high when they go low.” It’s not empowering. It’s embarrassingly obvious with no substance beneath the surface. Shankman and company also try their hand at some potty humor (a fart joke, really?) and R-rated laughs (inflatable penises) that fall woefully short.
Shankman falls back on a supporting cast barely one cut above forgettable. Erykah Badu steals a few scenes as a whacked out psychic. Kellan Lutz shows up as a muscular neighbor with kinky sex on his mind. Chris Witaske and Max Greenfield are rival agents. Tracy Morgan plays a helicopter dad to the NBA first-round prospect (Shane Paul McGhie) Ali hopes to sign. To further pad out the journey, there are celebrity cameos by Lisa Leslie, Devonta Freeman, Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, to name a few.
Ali is self-centered and frenetic in her pursuit to shatter the glass ceiling. She strives for status with a designer wardrobe, black Louboutin heels and matching black Porsche. She’ll leave many casualties in her wake.
Henson, an Oscar-nominee for 2009’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” is in nearly every scene. She has the comedic chops and charm to milk laughs as a woman with lessons to learn, but is repeatedly failed by an erratic script. Initially, she’s presented as toxic (with Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” blaring to heighten the point), then sent off to discover that knowing what’s in someone’s head is not the same as what’s in their heart. Awwwwwwww!!!
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“What Men Want”
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodges, Josh Brener, Erykah Badu, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Jason Jones, Chris Witsake, Brian Bosworth, Kellan Lutz and Tracy Morgan.
(R for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material ).