4 out of 10
Directed by Adam Shankman
What Men Want Review:
There is no concept so grand that Hollywood can’t run it into the ground, dig it up, beat it to death with its own arm and then run it into the ground again. Actually that may be Hollywood’s highest form of compliment as only a good concept would inspire (I’m not sure that word is appropriate here but whatever) someone to do that. Nancy Myers original comedy about a man who can read women’s minds was close enough to that high concept Nirvana it’s amazing it took anyone this long to try and make it work again. And after seeing Adam Shankman’s (Hairspray) gender flipped variation, hopefully no one will try again.
The recipient of accidental telepathic abilities this time around is Ali Davis (Henson), a take no prisoners sports agent who has made her place in a man’s world. Or so she thought until her bro-centric company refuses to make her partner again, leaving Ali to pull out the big guns and claim she will sign the new NBA no. 1 draft pick (McGhie) or die trying. It’s a feat made much easier when an out of control bachelorette party and a mild concussion give Ali the ability to hear men’s thoughts, always, all the time. Though it would seem like a massive opportunity, Ali’s main goal is to sew up her professional aspirations and anything else is for the birds. In the process, though, she may discover that even she knows what someone is thinking she still has no idea what they want.
What Men Want is not a failure on every level, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. Characters are thinly sketched as is the plot. Despite its central idea everything is a setup for an easy, hackneyed joke about sex or money or sex and money. Ali’s central theory of how men work is that they are out to “get paid and get laid” and despite many characters attempts to disprove that notion, the filmmakers seem to believe it’s true as well given how many of the jokes and gags revolve around the idea.
What it does manage to do is undercut and recontextualize the value of the high concept itself. An interesting premise may pique curiosity but it’s not a film in and of itself; it’s a door way to interesting characters and dialogue and theme and plot. What Men Want has almost none of those things. It has a premise to hang jokes and character off of but never bothers to really develop either as if the concept is so good nothing else needs to be done except pad out the running time between gags, most of which are just variations on a well-worn theme. Comedy, especially adult oriented comedy needs to have more than just obvious punchlines, it’s got to have real teeth and edge. What Men Want seems mostly to be written by the teenage boys it is making fun of.
And all of that despite gathering a stellar cast. While Henson continues to be stuck in roles that require her to unleash all of her charisma just to make them passable the good news is she can actually do that. And she has a lot of backup in the form of a number of stalwart comedy veterans particularly Tracy Morgan doing an impression of LaVar Ball by way of Tracy Morgan. What’s even more impressive is the quality of comedic performance Shankman manages to drag out of performers not known for such things. Erykah Badu is a comedy genius who takes over every scene she’s in, including ones with Morgan. Who knew?
None of that is going to salvage What Men Want, however. It is a lumpy, misshapen wreck of a film that never tries hard enough to make itself worthy of its ideas or its cast. In that sense, it’s perfect Hollywood.