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"WHAT MEN WANT"
(2019) (Taraji P. Henson, Tracy Morgan) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A career woman working in the male-dominated field of sports agents can suddenly hear the thoughts of men and uses this ability to her advantage.
PLOT:
Ali Davis (TARAJI P. HENSON) is trying to make it in the male-dominated field of sports agents, but she keeps getting passed over for promotion. She thinks it's because she is a woman. But it's clear that she doesn't know much about how the male mind and ego works. She has a lot of support from her faithful assistant; Brandon (JOSH BRENER); his office crush (PETE DAVIDSON); her father, Skip (RICHARD ROUNDTREE); and her trio of best friends, Ciarra (PHOEBE ROBINSON), Olivia (WENDI-McLENDON-CLOVEY), and Mari (TAMALA JONES). But she just can't seem to break through.

Then, at Ciarra's bachelorette party, Ali drinks a mysterious tea brewed by a psychic-for-hire, Sister (ERYKAH BADU). At a dance club, she stumbles and hits her head hard on the club's bar. When she regains consciousness, she discovers that she now has the ability to read men's minds. After initially being freaked out by this power, she decides to use it to impress her boss, Nick Ivers (BRIAN BOSWORTH); one-up her male colleagues Kevin (MAX GREENFIELD), Eddie (CHRIS WITASKE), and John (JASON JONES); and win over Jamal Barry (SHANE PAUL McGHIE), a high-school basketball star on the verge of being the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

But first, she has to win over his domineering father, Joe (TRACY MORGAN), who is looking to control all aspects of his son's life and career. At the same time, she has started up a romance with a bartender named Will (ALDIS HODGE), who is also a widower and a single father to a six-year-old boy. Things start to go awry when she poses Will and his son as her husband and child to impress family-first Joe.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
In the age of the MeToo movement, the dismantling of the casting couch in Hollywood, the Gillette TV commercial calling out masculine toxicity, and so much more, we get the new flick "What Men Want." It's a comedy -- a funny one, thankfully -- about one of men's greatest fears. No, not sliding down a razor-sharp banister naked. I'm talking about women obtaining the ability to be able to hear dudes' thoughts. Yikes!

In these changing times, for many guys, their only safe space is their thoughts. You bring those out into the light, too, and we'll have chaos, my friends. The end of days. No more red meat or John Wayne movies or plot-free pornography. We'll be quivering messes in need of holding. Actually, I wish "What Men Want" would have tapped more into such exaggerated fears for comic payoffs. It's more than content to just be a raunchy female empowerment comedy with some easy laughs in the bedroom and boardroom -- the two places where the screenwriters feel men are most vulnerable. It's a formula film that goes down easy. But the formula could have been crafted to be just a bit more bitter, and I think it would have made for a better film.

I'll say one thing that this flick proves. Taraji P. Henson can carry a major studio motion picture! She has the comic timing of "Bridget Jones"-era Renee Zellweger, the sexiness of a "Die Another Day"-era Halle Berry, and the star presence of any above-the-title star working in the film biz today. She's like a one-woman "Girls Trip," able to play the broad R-rated smut that Tiffany Haddish excels at as easy as she pulls off the romantic byplay with the leading man, Aldis Hodge, that Regina Hall is always good at. And at 48 with an Oscar nomination under her belt, she has the gravitas of a Queen Latifah to be the glue this film needs with such a large supporting cast. She is the biggest and best reason to see this movie.

What's also great about her performance here is her willingness to let others around her shine and get big laughs, too. For instance, it's very funny to watch Henson's Ali Davis throwing Hodge's sensitive widower down on a bed and ravishing him (twice actually!) But it's Hodge's reactions to the woman's aggression that sells the two scenes and will have audiences roaring, especially when you realize he is experiencing both great pleasure and considerable pain ("Easy on the balls, easy on the balls!")

I also enjoyed Josh Brener as Ali's put-upon assistant, Erykah Badu as a wackadoodle psychic who puts the supernatural events of the film into motion, and Tracy Morgan as the father of a star athlete looking to control all aspects of his son's career (especially his endorsements). I think LaVar Ball's gonna sue somebody over this!

Ali is a hard-charging Type A go-getter trying to succeed in the male-dominated world of sports agents. She is continually passed over for promotion at work, though, and seems to only have success signing top female athletes. She's never really come close to a committed relationship in her personal life, and eventually concedes she has no idea how the male mind really works. That is, until Badu's Sister makes her drink a special tea and she ends up hitting her head at a dance club. After that, she can hear what men are thinking. And she eventually uses that power to her own advantage.

Yes, this is a remake of the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt 2000 comedy, "What Women Want." It follows pretty much the same blueprint as that film, and there will be no surprises by the time every character lines up at the end for their successive happy ending. But the characters in "What Men Want" are extremely likable and a number of the laughs are quite big. It's not great. But it gets the job done and is worthy of promotion. I rate it a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed February 5, 2019 / Posted February 8, 2019


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