What Men Want was built to be a spiritual successor to Mel Gibson’s What Women Want, so it’s not surprising when both films make many of the same mistakes. For those lucky enough to forget, What Women Want depicted a dickweed ad executive who harbored a cluelessly condescending attitude toward the women around him. The movie then imbues him with the ability to access female thoughts, delivered in the form of conveniently crisp narration. These cerebral snippets demeaningly portray women as insecure, hormonal dingbats, satisfying every tired cliché in the book. What Men Want flips that wrongheaded script when Taraji P. Henson’s character falls victim to the same clunky plot device. She peers into the minds of men and discovers them to be slobbering, farting, hornball Cro Magnons who send out the kind of idiotic, neatly-contained soundbites that sound cute in movie trailers. It’s clear from both films that neither of them do a good job of figuring out what anybody anywhere wants.
Ali Davis (Henson) is a self-absorbed, fast-climbing sports agent who reps all the best female athletes. When she gets Jerry Maguire-d out of a promotion in favor of a smug, frat-boy co-worker, Ali heads out to drown her sorrows with her best girlfriends. They run across a wild-eyed soothsayer (Erykah Badu), who puts together a potion to help Ali understand men better. As luck would have it, Ali then smacks her head at a nightclub and…presto! She gets a peek into the male brain. Like Gibson’s character, Ali deploys this ability for her own gain, outmaneuvering her male colleagues and manipulating a potential new boyfriend (Aldis Hodge).
Also, much like its forebear, What Men Want spends much of its time reaching for cheap laughs. Most of the men around Ali only have the brainpower to think about squeezing out a silent fart or how they would get freaky with a cute cocktail waitress. I know, those thoughts commonly pop into a man’s head, but this movie takes that one joke and pounds it into ground round. Tracy Morgan shows up as an off-kilter dad to a future Russell Westbrook, but even his part is one-dimensional and grating. The script packs in too much stuff: Subplots about Ali’s ambitious, lovable assistant and his newfound crush, Ali’s BFF and her impending nuptials–they go on and on and draw the story out way too much. Comedies like this are made out of balsa wood, and less is definitely more.
If What Men Want has a saving grace, it’s the sturdy performance of Henson in the lead role. She has impeccable comic timing, and a bright, ingratiating personality that keeps Ali likable throughout. Henson is way better than the material, and I look forward to seeing her in a smarter, funnier comedy.
It seems Hollywood has grown gluttonous from feeding at the same old trough: This upcoming movie season is loaded with remakes, reboots, sequels, and three-quels. What Men Want is no more than a mere rehash, a cash-in on an original movie that hasn’t aged well and never cried out for more in the first place. Hopefully, we can survive this onslaught of reheated ideas and get rewarded with some original stories down the road somewhere. I can’t and won’t speak for men or women in general, but that’s what I want.
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