This laboured, overlong comedy inverts the premise behind What Women Want, the 2000 rom-com starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. In What Men Want, Taraji P Henson plays Ali, a self-absorbed and ambitious agent working in the male-dominated world of sports management. While she represents a number of Olympic athletes, she hasn’t got an NBA, NFL or baseball star on her books. She’s again passed over for a much-desired 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). He’s a potential number one draft pick in the NBA. She has to win the trust of Jamal’s goofy manager and father Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan), who doesn’t particularly trust unmarried or single women.
In a convenient but somewhat cliched sub-plot, Ali meets hunky bartender Will (Aldis Hodge), a widower raising his six year-old son Ben. When a misunderstanding sees her pass off Will and Ben as family, she uses it 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 assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) and Danny (an uncredited Pete Davidson) a co-worker who has a bit of a crush on him. Things begin to get 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 cliched film that tries to make some potent points about sexism in the workplace and about men behaving badly. Some of the humour is quite raunchy, and the abrasive humour itself lacks the affable quality of What Women Want.
The patchy script has been worked on by four writers who’ve loosely reshaped the Mel Gibson film, but some of the gags seem dated. The writers include Tina Gordon (Drumline), Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory (better known for their work on TV series like Frasier and Veep) and first time feature writer Jas Waters (This is Us).
The director is Adam Shankman (Hairspray) but his handling of the material is a pedestrian. A committed cast try to wring laughs out of the generic set-ups. Henson (Hidden Figures) brings plenty of energy to her performance as Ali, 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. Hodge brings an honesty and vulnerability to his role as the essentially decent Will, while Brener gets some zingers that he delivers with relish.
Former NFL linebacker turned actor Brian Bosworth (Stone Cold) 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. Ali’s posse of best friends are played by Wendy McLendon Covey, Phoebe Robinson and Tamala Jones, but they’re given little to do. Several sports stars appear in cameos that add authenticity to the background.
What Men Want is an underwhelming rom-com that wastes many opportunities and features many scenes that fall flat.
Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Taraji P Henson, Tracy Morgan, Shane Paul McGhie, Josh Brener
Release Date: 21 February 2019
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Greg King has had a life long love of films. He has been reviewing popular films for over 15 years. Since 1994, he has been the film reviewer for BEAT magazine. His reviews have also appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, S-Press, Stage Whispers, and a number of other magazines, newspapers and web sites. Greg contributes to The Blurb on film