A film review by Craig J. Koban May 29, 2019


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

I'm not 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.   



Hmmmmm....if only 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 MeToo-ers."  That's 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

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