I wasn’t the least bit surprised walking out of Think Like a Man feeling satisfied with what I’d just seen. Not because it breaks rom-com rules and does something spectacular with the narrative but because it’s legitimately entertaining. There are still the typical genre trappings from avoidable misunderstandings and a share of insufferable moments, such as the constant barrage of infomercials promoting comedian Steve Harvey’s self-help book “Act Like a Lady and Think Like a Man,” which served as the film’s inspiration. This, however, is forgivable as the film itself works despite this setback thanks to a strong cast, entertaining script and, of course, Kevin Hart.
The one thing Think Like a Man gets right that so many other movies of this sort get wrong is the casting of legitimately funny people rather than trying to wedge some B-list actor in where the only answer is a series of pratfalls and sight gags, or wedge a comedian in where they just don’t fit. Here the entire cast lends a humorous hand, but the majority of the laughs come from funnyman Kevin Hart. Since seeing him acting up during the NBA All-Star Weekend I knew Think Like a Man was on target for a big success at the box-office and I don’t think I was too far off.
Hart lived up to my expectations as a recently divorced man among his group of five archetypal friends, all of which have been skating by in their various relationships.
There’s man-child Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) who has been dating the beautiful Kristen (Gabrielle Union) for nine years without popping the question. Michael (Terrence J) is the mama’s boy who is finding it impossible to cut the cord and, even worse, doesn’t seem to realize there’s a problem. Dominic (Michael Ealy) is “The Dreamer” which is to say he doesn’t really have much of a problem outside of cash flow issues. Zeke (Romany Malco from The 40-Year-Old Virgin) is the player of the bunch and Bennett (Gary Owen) plays a couple of roles, first as the stereotypical white guy (frequently funny) and secondly as the only happily married one of the bunch.
The fellas soon meet their match, however, as Harvey’s book comes into play as do new ladies into the guys’ lives.
For Jeremy, Kristen tosses his Lord of the Rings and other fantasy memorabilia into storage, suggesting it’s time to grow up. Michael meets Candace (Regina Hall), a single mother using Harvey’s rules to best introduce a new man to her son. Dominic meets high-profile COO Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) who is looking for a man that can match or exceed her earning capacity and Zeke begins dating Mya (the gorgeous — as are all these ladies — Meagan Good), who is using Harvey’s rules and keeping “the cookie” in the cookie jar for 90 days. The games begin and Hart, as Cedric, plays the film’s narrator and prankster who is seen frequently getting involved with all of the guys’ lives at various turns in the story.
The path the plot eventually takes is no surprise. You could probably write the script with the information I’ve given you, but what you couldn’t do is write the punch lines or deliver them as well as the cast assembled. Among the many moments with Kevin Hart, what I found particularly funny were a couple of left field jabs at Tyler Perry films, with For Colored Girls really taking it on the chin.
The film walks a fine PG-13 line with sexual innuendos and language perhaps the MPAA just didn’t “get” and so it was allowed to slide. Which brings me to the screenplay written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman who also wrote the Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis starrer Friends with Benefits. Like that movie, this one plays the comedy close to the cuff (though that one was working with an R-rating) and establishes its characters to the point you know what to expect from each. Also, like that film it has some elements that don’t work, but when it comes to the bigger picture it gets things right more than it does wrong.
The only glaring issue, as I mentioned earlier, is the continued wedging in of Harvey’s asides. When the characters in the film aren’t referring to Harvey by name — “Well, Steve says…” — he is popping up on an Oprah-like talk show hosted by Sherri Shepherd and either giving advice to the studio audience or, at times, speaking directly to the theater audience in a selection of inserts. At first it’s a clever gimmick that helps introduce the concept (which isn’t exactly high concept), but as the film moves along it needn’t be there and its absence could have helped trim the two hour running time.
That one small quibble aside, Think Like a Man is a win. The cast is great as is the supporting soundtrack. Director Tim Story (Barbershop) has gotten away from the films that seemed to be a little out of his wheelhouse such as the Fantastic Four features and come down to Earth with a story that works in large part due to the sum of its parts.