WHAT MEN WANT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Adam Shankman

Stars: Taraji P Henson, Aldis Hodge, Josh Brener, Tracy Morgan, Brian Bosworth, Erykah Badu, Shane Paul McGhie, Wendi McLendon Covey, Phoebe Robinson, Tamala Jones, Richard Roundtree, Kellan Lutz, Chris Witaske, Max Greenfield, Auston Jon Moore, Pete Davidson.

Max Greenfield, Taraji P. Henson, and Chris Witaske in What Men Want (2019)

This laboured, patchy and overlong comedy inverts the premise behind What Women Want, the 2000 romantic comedy from Nancy Meyers that starred Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.

Taraji P Henson (from tv series Empire, Hidden Figures, etc) plays Ali, a self-absorbed and ambitious female agent working in the ultra competitive, cutthroat, testosterone fuelled, white male dominated world of sports management. She works for the Summit Worldwide Management company, and while she represents a number of Olympic athletes she hasn’t got an NBA, NFL or baseball star on her books. She is again passed over for a much desire partnership in the company, which angers her.

While out partying with her three best friends, she stumbles and hits her head. When she wakes up she realises that she is able to hear the inner thoughts of the men around her, starting with the doctor who treats her. Ali decides to use this new found ability to give her an edge over her male colleagues, particularly when it comes to trying to sign young basketball star Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie, in his first major film role), the potential number one draft pick for the NBA. She has to win the trust and respect of Jamal’s capricious and goofy manager and father Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan), who doesn’t particularly trust unmarried or single women.

In a convenient but somewhat cliched and formulaic romantic subplot, Ali meets hunky bartender Will (Aldis Hodge, from Straight Outta Compton, etc), a widower raising his six year old son Ben.When a misunderstanding sees her pass off Will and Ben as family she she uses that relationship to further cement her relationship with Jamal and his father. Reading men’s’ minds also enables Ali to orchestrate an office romance between her beleaguered underpaid assistant Brandon (Josh Brener, recently seen in The Front Runner, etc) and Danny (an uncredited Pete Davidson, from SNL, etc) a goofy coworker who has a bit of a crush on him.

Things begin to get a little bit complicated for Ali, who soon learns that her power to understand the thoughts of men is something of a double edged sword.

What Men Want is a bit of a cliched chick flick that tries to make some potent points about sexism and gender equality in the workplace and about men behaving badly. Some of the humour is quite raunchy and cliched, and the abrasive and crude humour itself lacks the affable quality and crowd pleasing touches of What Women Want.

The patchy script has been worked on by four writers who have loosely reshaped the Mel Gibson film, but some of the gags seem dated. The writers include Tina Gordon (Drumline, etc), Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory (better known for their work on tv series like Frasier, VEEP, The Tracy Morgan Show and as regular writers for David Letterman) and first time feature writer Jas Waters (This Is Us, etc).

The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray, etc) but his handling of the material is a bit pedestrian and lacks energy. But a committed cast try to wring laughs out of the generic setups. Henson brings plenty of energy to her performance as the hard drinking and aggressive Ali who desperately tries to break through the glass ceiling of her industry, but her character is often grating and unlikebable. Morgan brings his usual irritability and comic sensibility to his role and much of his dialogue comes across as improvised. Hodges brings an honesty and vulnerability to his role as the essentially decent Will, while Brener gets some nifty one-liners, cutting put downs and snarky zingers that he delivers with relish. Former NFL linebacker turned actor Brian Bosworth (Stone Cold, etc) plays the very macho head of the agency, while Kellan Lutz is cast against type in a small role. Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft) plays Ali’s supportive father. Erykah Badu plays an eccentric fortune teller named Sister, who gets her moment to shine with a montage of comic outtakes that play during the final credits sequence. Ali’s posse of best friends are played by Wendy McLendon Covey, Phoebe Robinson and Tamala Jones, but they are given little to do by the script. There are several cameos from sports stars that add authenticity to the background.  

What Men Want is an underwhelming romcom that wastes many opportunities and features many scenes that fall flat.

★☆

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