“What Men Want” (Rated C)
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Erykah Badu, Tracy Morgan
Genre: Comedy, fantasy/romance
It’s exactly what you would expect!
If you were expecting the new romantic comedy/fantasy, “What Men Want”, to be a relatively low-brow, low-hanging fruit-picking flick, then, yes! It largely squanders the potential and promise of its fascinating premise by never really aiming for anything even close to greatness, settling instead for serving up well-trodden tropes.
While not technically a remake, its storyline essentially flips the script on the 2000 Mel Gibson comedy “What Women Want”. Rather than having a man hearing all women’s inner thoughts, we get a woman hearing what goes on in all men’s heads.
Passed up for a well-deserved promotion, sports agent Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) wonders what else she needs to do to succeed in a man’s world. Hoping to find answers from a psychic (Erykah Badu), Ali drinks a weird concoction that suddenly allows her to hear what men are thinking. Using her newfound ability, Ali starts to turn the tables on her obnoxious male colleagues while racing to sign the next basketball superstar.
The cast delivers decent enough performances. For the most part, Henson is fun to watch. Perhaps she plays Ali a tad bit too highly strung, and just a shade under “over-the-top”, but it would be expected for one to be hysterical if one were hearing all the thoughts of half the population.
Aldis Hodge, as Ali’s love interest, and Badu, as the psychedelic psychic, are among the other high points, plus there are lots of cool cameos from sports legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Lisa Leslie.
But for a number of reasons, the picture is largely uneven and in some ways unsatisfying.
By focusing a lot of time on the NBA draft prospect and his family, “What Men Want” is driven full-speed into generic sports movie territory. And with the “battle-of-the-agents” theme, this might as well be just another episode of any number of HBO television series. (Seriously, what’s the deal with HBO and shows about agents?)
Even bigger issues stem from its willingness to encourage stereotypes. While it would be unfair to say it’s engaging in male-bashing, “What Men Want” largely portrays men as Neanderthals, feeding us the same old stuff movies and television for decades have been telling us primarily populate men’s thoughts: sports, sex, video games, bodily functions.
There are a couple of exceptions of course – the love interest, who’s practically perfect, and the gay assistant/best-friend, who’s apparently more evolved than most men. And thus, we get even more stereotypes, and more of the same generic and tired romantic comedy clichés.
Furthermore, the character Ali is mainly problematic initially because she “acts like a man”, with all her negative qualities seen as male-like behaviors. Only through her newfound powers does she learn she needs to be less like a man to truly succeed.
What’s a man to make of all of that?
While I wasn’t exactly expecting the greatest show on earth, “What Men Want” truly could have gone so much deeper, especially in this #MeToo era and with the heightened sensibilities about race. That could have possibly elevated it from merely amusing to actually funny and insightful.
But that would have been expecting too much.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.