Thursday, February 7, 2019

What men want? Maybe less contrivance?

Taraji P. Henson stars in What Men Want, a comedy about a sports agent who can hear men’s thoughts.

Taraji P. Henson finds a big-screen showcase in What Men Want, a gender-flipping version of 2000's What Women Want, a movie that featured Mel Gibson as a Chicago ad man who has an accident and suddenly is able to hear women's thoughts. Guess what? A macho man becomes more sensitive.

In the female version -- directed by Adam Shankman -- Henson portrays Ali Davis, an Atlanta-based sports agent who's constantly passed over for a partnership she’s more than earned. In the male-dominated world of sports agency, Ali works with a major handicap. Try as she may, she's just not one of the boys. How could she be? The boys are making all the rules.

Henson dominates the movie, but can't entirely rise above the movie's sitcom conceits. In this version, Henson's Ali hits her head and suddenly can hear what men are thinking. She's initially appalled but soon realizes that this unique skill might give her the edge she needs to win the partnership she's craving -- and which her performance record clearly justifies.

Formulaic and predictable, the movie does include one bit of oddball casting that clicks: Erykah Badu plays Sister, a long-haired psychic with fingernails that resemble talons. Sister is hired by one of Ali's girlfriends to work a bachelorette party for a soon-to-be-married gal pal.

The cast also includes Josh Brener, as Ali's gay assistant, Tracy Morgan as the father of a prime basketball prospect (Shane Paul McGhie) that Ali is determined to sign. Richard Roundtree plays Ali's dad, a widower who runs a boxing gym and has instilled his daughter with a spirit of toughness.

Aldis Hodge does love-interest duty as Will, a single dad who works as a bartender and who catches Ali's eye. Hodge's Will eventually gets caught in strained plot antics in which Ali decides to fake a marriage to impress Morgan's Joe "Dolla" Barry, a self-proclaimed family man. She thinks the ruse will help her to sign Joe's son.

A variety of athletes turn up for cameos. Among them: Grant Hill, Shaquille O'Neal, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

The movie tries to find the kind of raunchy spirit that enlivened last year's much funnier Girls Trip but the R-rated results are mixed.

Hollywood comedies have a tendency to get preachy, so it's no surprise that before the picture ends, Ali must realize that she doesn't have to play a man's game to succeed. She needn't concern herself with what men think: She can make it on her own.

It's almost as if the screenwriters are lecturing both the character and the audience, another instance of a movie that can make you feel as if you're reading a book someone else already has underlined.

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