WHAT MEN WANT ½
2019, R, 117 mins.
Taraji P. Henson as Ali Davis / Tracy Morgan as Joe Barry / Josh Brener as Brandon / Wendi McLendon-Covey as Olivia / Brian Bosworth as Nick / Phoebe Robinson as Ciarra / Shane Paul McGhie as Jamal / Aldis Hodge as Will
Directed by Adam Shankman / Written by Peter Huyck
technically against gender swapped remakes of movies, regardless of genre.
However, these remakes have to earn their keep and justify their very existence.
The new romantic
comedy WHAT MEN WANT - which is a very loose remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson
and Helen Hunt starring romcom WHAT WOMEN WANT - doesn't make for a strong
case study in regards to said pursuits.
That near twenty year old film featured Gibson as a man that was
magically granted the power to read any woman's mind and hear their most
intimate and internalized thoughts, and now WHAT MEN WANT features, yes, a
female lead character - played by Taraji P. Henson - that develops the
exact same psychic ability to know what every man is thinking around her.
There's nothing inherently wrong with appropriating this old
premise with and giving it a new spin, but WHAT WOMEN WANT is so bereft of
creativity and comedic raw edge in exploring it that it becomes more
disappointingly forgettable than compellingly hilarious.
There are so very
few romcoms these days that are headed up by a minority female performer,
so I'll give this film props for it being a vehicle for Henson's
considerable talents. Unfortunately, everything built around the actress' proven
abilities and her somewhat thankless performance here is mostly vapid and
lacking in genuine merriment. She
plays Ali Davis, a ferociously ambitious sports agent that wants to climb
her company's corporate ladder, but feels stymied at every waking turn by
her male colleagues. She does
believe in her heart of hearts that she's a shoe-in for making partner,
but after a highly embarrassing meeting with the higher ups she learns
that she's been passed over for it in favor of a man.
This infuriates and frustrates her to no end, seeing as it makes
her question her entire place in a male dominated world.
she developed the ability to read men's minds...then she would gain a
stranglehold advantage over them in the work place.
Well, wouldn't ya
know it, she does get said powers after a chance encounter one evening
with a bumbling physic, and when she awakens the next day she learns of
her astonishing new abilities and all of the tantalizing new doors that
open to her as a result. The rest of the plot involves her trying to sign a major pro
athlete in the form of rising basketball star Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie)
before any of her male colleagues get their mitts on him.
One major road block is the player's father (Tracy Morgan, in peak
Tracy Morgan-ness), who doesn't take to kindly to a woman representing his
all-star-to-be son. But,
Ali's ace up her sleeve is that she knows every move the men around her
are going to make at any moment, which places her in a uniquely gainful
place to be to sign the young man and gain some much needed occupational
street cred and respect.
One big problem
with WHAT MEN WANT is that the comedic elements seem forced and routine
instead of feeling like an organic by-product of the fantasy premise.
So much of what transpires in the narrative is like a woefully
contrived sitcom that's also punctuaated by an awful lot of dumb and ill
formed subplots that kind of go nowhere.
For example, Ali becomes romantically smitten with a hunky local
bartender and single dad named Will (nicely played by Aldis Hodge), and it
would have been interesting to see her explore a relationship with this
relatively honest and sincere man that didn't require her to read his mind
to find out any duplicitous motives on his part.
But - oy vey - the screenplay offers up a hackneyed subplot that
involves her forcing him and his son to pretend to be her family in order
to placate the Tracey Morgan's father character.
It's beyond insipidly manufactured, and when the film is
desperately trying top score laughs at this angle's expense you almost
gain the sensation that a laugh track should have been inserted to tell us
when to giggle.
To be honest,
WHAT MEN WANT doesn't even require a love interest at all for Henson's
Ali. The movie really should
be about her arduous day-to-day struggles of trying to do everything she
possibly can to get ahead of nearly every man around her at her job and
the obvious gender inequalities that annoyingly exist for her.
Now, I assuming that there's probably some powerful sports agents -
or agents in general - that are women, so maybe this profession is the
last one to use as an example of the struggles that common women face
while trying to succeed in a man's world.
Then there's the added thematic dimension of the Me Too movement
and how that could have compellingly figured into the story as well.
This film's only single moment addressing that is when Ali's CEO
boss (Brain Bosworth) informs her that she will not be fired (after her
workplace failures) because he feels like he would be "crucified by
it. That's all this film
offers up in terms of context. I
grew dizzy while watching WHAT MEN WANT thinking about how it could have
handled all of its potentially juicy and challenging ideas.
This takes me to
what I consider the somewhat offensive handling of the central concept of
Ali reading men's minds. Think
about what that would fundamentally entail.
Instead of providing some nuanced insight into the mindsets of
multiple men from different walks of life, WHAT MEN WANT paints nearly all
of its male characters - based on what Ali can decipher from their
thoughts - as lazy, selfish, egotistical, and chauvinistic pigs that all
seem to occupy a place a repellent sleaziness.
That's not to say that Ali would not have obnoxious a-holes at work
to fend off, but there's something unsavory and unfair about the blanket
statements this film makes that seemingly all men (with the exception of
Hodge's love interest) are lecherous backstabbers. The film tries to make up for this one note handling of its
male characters by offering up the obligatory gay friend and colleague of
Ali (Josh Brener) that is, to be fair, pretty noble minded, but his role
plays up to the most overused homosexual stereotypes and clichés for the
romcoms that it erodes any goodwill he could have bestowed upon this film.
Here's the other thing: I simply didn't laugh very much in this film. It's chronically and criminally unfunny and, when it comes right down to it, is not very clever about about its comedy. Once you get passed a few modest chuckles to be had of hearing what the pea-sized-brained men think throughout WHAT MEN WANT then it sort of lazily coasts by on pure autopilot. The film's director in Adam Shankman has made a few films that I've greatly admired (like two musicals, the great HAIRSPRAY and the terribly underrated ROCK OF AGES), but here he struggles to capitalize of the limitless comedic and dramatic options available from Ali's powers, leaving the whole enterprise feeling pretty stale, humorless, and soulless. That, and WHAT MEN WANT never has the tenacity or nerve to be even remotely edgy with the inherent material and push audience buttons on multiple polarizing subjects regarding the inequities between men and women in society; it just opts for cheap gags and pratfalls in attempts to dryly recycle the same basic foundation of the aforementioned 2000 film that preceded it. Henson is perhaps far too good of an actress to wallow through such a paint-by-numbers and troupe laden remake, and she's arguably the only reason to watch the already ridiculously long winded endurance test of a film (the running time here of nearly two hours is kind of an insult considering the lackluster handling of the material).
It's all fine and dandy to have gender swapped remakes of past films, but we also need ones way, way better than this