[Screen It]


(2000) (Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: When a freak accident allows him to hear the thoughts of any woman he encounters, the ultimate man's man hopes to use that gift to his advantage in both his personal and professional lives, but eventually changes his ways when he learns what women really want from theirs.
Nick Marshall (MEL GIBSON) is a confident man's man, a testosterone-laced bachelor who has no problems charming or bedding the ladies of Chicago. He's also a hot-shot advertising executive who's so sure that he's going to get a big promotion that his airhead assistants, Eve (DELTA BURKE) and Margo (VALERIE PERRINE), have already opened the bubbly.

Unfortunately, his boss, Dan Wanamaker (ALAN ALDA), knows that the buying power in America has switched over to young women, so he's hired Darcy Maguire (HELEN HUNT), another ambitious ad veteran from a rival firm, for the position. Neither Nick nor his buddy, Morgan Farwell (MARK FEUERSTEIN), are pleased with this development, especially when Darcy gives them "homework" - to come up with campaign ideas for various women's products -- on her first day.

Nick has other problems beyond that. His ex-wife, Gigi (LAUREN HOLLY), has just remarried so their 15-year-old daughter, Alex (ASHLEY JOHNSON), will be staying with him for two weeks. She clearly isn't happy about that prospect as she views him more like a distant uncle rather than a father. To make matters worse, Nick's having a devil of a time convincing coffee shop employee Lola (MARISA TOMEI) to go out with him. Clearly, Nick doesn't know what women want.

Then one night, a freak accident suddenly leaves Nick with the ability to hear any woman's inner thoughts. Upset and overwhelmed by this sudden flood of personal information, Nick thinks he's going crazy, as does Morgan who urges him not to tell anyone else about this condition. After he visits his former marriage counselor (BETTE MIDLER) who tells him that if he knows what women want he could rule the world, however, he suddenly realizes he could use this gift to his advantage.

As such, he then sets out to read the thoughts of the various women in his life and use that information to figure out his teenage daughter, bed Lola and impress Dan with Darcy's ideas before she does. While doing so, however, he eventually realizes why women behave and think the way they do, and soon begins to change his way toward them.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Despite all of the various medical and biogenetic advances and explorations of the human body, the one part of being human that still hasn't been figured out is how and why people think. The whole concept and notion of thinking has perplexed doctors, scientists and philosophers for thousands of years and all sorts of con men, mystics and mind readers have tried to fill in that void by offering their "amazing" ability to see inside someone else's noggin. They've all failed, which is probably a good thing since thought is the one of the few human possessions that distinguishes and keeps us superior to increasingly "smart" computers, at least for the near future.

While most movies and TV shows haven't done much in exploring the idea of thought - and many would be accused of not showing any signs of that precious commodity in either their message or construction - those in the sci-fi genre have at least attempted to do so.

Although many of them fall into the B movie sub-genre and are often quite awful, some put some thought into their depiction of the thought process. Most notable and probably recognizable to the average viewer is Mr. Spock's Vulcan mind meld where some carefully placed digits on another's head would result in accessing that person or alien's mind as easily a hacker finding his or her way into a computer system.

Of course, if mind reading were possible, it would certainly open up a contentious can of worms. Those wishing not to be probed would need some sort of cranial firewall, while those with the ability would probably need to be licensed or have some sort of filter system if all thoughts would be uncontrollably available at all times.

If one were able to read thoughts, however, the big question is whose brain you'd want to pick and what info you'd want to "hear." Ask most any XY member of a heterosexual couple and they'd likely respond that they'd want to know what women want, especially since the parameters of that always seem to be constantly shifting.

That's part of the fun premise of director Nancy Meyers' sophomore outing, "What Women Want," a witty and entertaining picture that's part Twilight Zone, part romantic comedy. Written by screenwriters Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (making their debut after writing for TV's "The King of Queens") who work from a story by Diane Drake ("Only You"), the tale involves the high concept, "what if" premise of a man's man suddenly having the ability, to his initial horror, to hear women's innermost thoughts.

After some necessary but perfunctory exposition, that premise kicks in and the filmmakers get some good comedic mileage out of the material. While they might not mine it for everything it's worth or explore its full potential and thus touch on all viewers' expectations of what could and should have been explored, there are enough amusing and occasionally hilarious bits to make this a sure-fire, audience pleasing experience.

While Meyers, whose previous directorial experience was helming the remake of "The Parent Trap," hits upon the expected personal, romantic and occupational aspects of such "mind reading," it may have been more fun - and thus funnier - had some ground rules been established regarding the gift.

For instance, we never really know if Nick Marshall can filter out or isolate his concentration on certain thoughts, or from what distance his "reception" begins to fade. Although none of that's really necessary to enjoy the film, such knowledge on the audience's part could have allowed the filmmakers to introduce various moments that would play off them to comic effect (such as Nick trying to keep up with a woman on the move so as to stay "in range"), especially since he initially uses that gift to better his own lot.

Some may argue that the plot is too formulaic and that most viewers will know from the onset that Nick will initially freak out upon discovering his curse, then realize it's a gift he can exploit, and finally learn from it, thus enabling him to become a better person and get the girl in the end. While that's a valid concern, the filmmakers put enough of a fresh spin on the proceedings that one probably won't really care that they'll know or figure out where the story's headed before it gets there itself.

Much of that stems from the terrific performance from Mel Gibson ("The Patriot," "Chicken Run"). Taking on the lead in a contemporary romantic comedy for the first time in his long career, Gibson proves he's just as adept at this sort of role as he's been in his previous action and dramatic flicks. While some of his previous performances have shown a certain comedic tendency lurking about beneath the surface, he lets it run loose here and the results are immensely satisfying.

A romantic comedy, of course, needs the complementary object of desire, and Helen Hunt ("Cast Away," "Pay it Forward") ably provides just that. Although she pretty much plays the same sort of character with similar characterizations as she's done many times in the past, she's still good in the role. Ashley Johnson ("Anywhere But Here," "Nine Months") is decent as his stereotypically surly toward her father teenage daughter, while Marisa Tomei ("The Watcher," "My Cousin Vinny") makes the most of her brief supporting role.

Supporting performances from the likes of Alan Alda ("Manhattan Murder Mystery," "Crimes and Misdemeanors"), Lauren Holly ("Any Given Sunday," "A Smile Like Yours"), Delta Burke (TV's "Designing Women") and Valerie Perrine (the first two "Superman" films) are all decent, and give the film something of an easily recognizable and familiar feel. Nevertheless, the film belongs to Gibson and his presence and just right performance are what makes it work so well.

Despite it getting a bit slow and running short of laughs toward the end when Gibson's character goes through the obligatory "touchy feely" transformation and standard romantic comedy trappings, the film is still quite enjoyable and nearly always entertaining to watch. As such, "What Women Want" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 12, 2000 / Posted December 15, 2000

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