“What Men Want” Movie Review


     It was only a matter of time.  A no brainer if you will.  Maybe it took a little longer than once thought, but the script has been flipped on Nancy Meyer’s 2000 hit comedy “What Women Want”, bringing a female into Mel Gibson’s role and thus giving her the ability to hear what men are thinking internally.  And don’t tell Taraji P. Henson she’s being utilized here to fill someone else’s shoes, as she absolutely owns this role in every way, perhaps even making Gibson’s performance a distant memory in the process.  Working from script by Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck, and Alex Gregory, director Adam Shankman changes much of the dynamic from the original, but still places Henson in a position of secondary power, though she is aiming for a big promotion, amongst a male dominated workplace she struggles to get along with.

     Strangely enough, this is the third time in just under a year where a female lead character hits her head hard enough to create some kind of otherworldly experience meant as social commentary.  In addition to Henson’s Ali Davis, who after an interesting session with a psychic ends up gaining her ability to hear men’s thoughts when she abruptly smashes her head on a table while dancing at a nightclub, there was Amy Schumer hitting her's during a cycling class in “I Feel Pretty”, and it appears Rebel Wilson will do something similar in the upcoming “Isn’t It Romantic”.  Nonetheless, the story moves along with a consistent and welcome comedic beat set to Henson’s ability to deliver sharp, witty dialogue accompanied by raucous physical comedy.

     Ali Davis (Henson) is a sports agent working for a sports management firm comprised of mostly male counterparts.  And while she boasts an impressive client list of several notable female olympic athletes, she has been continually passed over in becoming a partner due to the lack of signing true superstar talent within the big four professional sports leagues.  In an opening scene, she still believes she is about to achieve her goal in a board room ceremony where the next partner is about to be named.  The company boss, Nick (Brian Bosworth), tosses a ceremonial football to the new partner and with Ali thinking its her, she catches the ball, only to be told it was directed at the guy sitting next to her.

     After the latest setback in her career, she is told if she could get the top college basketball prospect in the country, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), to sign with her and the company, it would potentially guarantee she becomes a partner.  Flanked by her assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener, Big Head from HBO’s “Silicon Valley” doing his best Gary impersonation from “Veep”), the duo sets out to meet Jamal and his flamboyant Lavar Ball caricature of a father Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan) during a photo shoot that doesn’t go as planned, leaving Ali to wonder what it takes to land a client of this stature.  Of course, we the audience have an idea since it’s shortly thereafter Ali is suddenly gifted with a power that proves to be quite handy within these male ego infused scenarios.

     There are a number of hilarious bits Shankman comes up with, each of which utilize cameo appearances from several notable sports stars who are no stranger to captivating audiences with their larger than life personas.  An all male poker game Ali finds herself in the middle of includes Joe Barry, but also Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Cuban, and Grant Hill.  And with her new found ability to hear each of their ongoing thoughts, it doesn’t prove difficult to clean house if she chooses, but she also sees an opportunity.  Add to this a budding love interest in Will (Aldis Hodge), and his very cute 6 year old son, Ben (Auston Jon Moore), who owns the line of the movie with his “Welcome to Wakanda” while utilizing Ali’s underwear as a mask, and you have the recipe for an all out comedy sure to end with the usual sentimental touches.

     Though all of this leads to a formulaic narrative, the film earns its laughs from a very game cast who no doubt gave their all in order to ensure “What Men Want” would stand tall next to its predecessor.  And while Henson clearly carries the film, she works well along side Brener as he makes a welcome transition from the small to big screen.  Meanwhile, Morgan is absolutely hilarious with his helicopter dad impersonation and clearly makes a gargantuan effort to steal every scene he appears in.  The only curious bit of casting is that of Shane Paul McGhie as a basketball player being sold as the next phenom and number one pick in the NBA draft.  Problem is, he doesn’t seem to have the kind of over the top skills necessary to sell himself as a high level player (one scene in particular between him and Henson on an outdoor court did not exude someone with the kind of talent to play in the NBA).  This would’ve been a great opportunity to cast an actual NBA player in the role, but in reality, the film isn’t about him so they get away with it.

     Of course, neither this film nor the Mel Gibson/Helen Hunt version really ever answer the question both titles ask.  And that’s because there is no answer.  After all these years, we have yet to really figure each other out.  But it would be cool (and quite helpful) to finally know exactly what you’re thinking.  GRADE: B-