What Men Want
The new Taraji P. Henson comedy, What Men Want, shares its premise with the 2000 Mel Gibson hit, What Women Want, but the resemblance ends there. In both movies, an ambitious, abrasive executive has an accident that gives them the ability to hear the thoughts of the opposite sex. But the sexual politics of What Men Want have been updated, the rougher edges softened and the lead character stripped of any family save a wise father.
In short, What Men Want plays it safe. After an extended sequence to introduce the many, many characters, high-powered sports agent Ali (Henson) starts to hear her all-male fellow agents’ salty-but-not-quite-nasty thoughts and to plot to use that knowledge to her advantage. She also hears the benign thoughts of Will (Aldis Hodge), a one night stand she tricks into posing as her husband to win over a prospective client’s father (Tracy Morgan).
The language and a couple goofy (and nonexplicit) sex scenes earned the movie an R rating, but its heart is in the PG-13 realm. Henson is amusing and only mildly abrasive; Hodge is the ideal sensitive man (with cute child); Morgan is just weakly ridiculous. Ali’s trio of best friends (Phoebe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tamala Jones) are pleasant one-noters, while Ali’s chief rivals at work are nicely played by Max Greenfield and Jason Jones.
The movie gives more attention to Ali’s gay assistant, Brandon (a very funny Josh Brener of TV’s Silicon Valley), who’s the only person who knows Ali’s psychic gift and the only person other than Ali who gets to have a credible love life.
As if there weren’t enough characters on screen already, there’s also a bonus stream of cameos by actual star athletes, whose comfort level in front of a camera varies wildly.
The writing team (four people are credited) comes up with some entertaining set pieces, including a wedding that goes off the rails, but the humor is mostly chuckle-worthy rather than gut-busting. Ali’s ESP is oddly selective, sometimes seeming to disappear or not apply to certain guys, which clarifies the narrative but dampens the comedy.
The key player may be the legendary Richard Roundtree, as Ali’s well-grounded father. It’s not that his part is that much bigger than the fistful of other supporting players, but his presence is a tell that director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) is more interested in the movie’s emotional arc than in making a raucous comedy. Indeed, Ali’s apology tour in the third act is long, heart-tugging and nearly joke-free.
The movie may not settle on exactly what men want, but it’s certain that moviegoers want more sentiment than silliness.
Grade: B-minus. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Paramount Players/BET Films)