What Men Want *1/2

by Asher Luberto

"What Men Want" is certainly not this.  

Is it worth $10? No 

What DO men want? The general stereotyped consensus would read something like a glorified trifecta: sex, sleep, and sandwiches. This isn't exactly accurate, but neither are the gender-classifications in Adam Shankman's rom-com "What Men Want," a mind control comedy that reaches mind numbing extremes.

Mind control might be the wrong term. The gift, or rather, "the shine," gifted to our dutiful heroine Ali gives her the ability to read the thoughts of men. She is played by the luminous Taraji P. Henson. Ali is a success driven sports agent, and an agent for the grief stricken businesswoman trying to make it in a man's world. The only thing that seems to separate her from a much needed promotion are chromosomes. In other words, she works at a "boys club." An agency brimming with white men with whiter teeth, rambling like entitled frat-boys, practically worshiping the Larry Bird jersey seen hanging on the wall. But her ubiquitous problem is her inability to connect with men.

You will find that the film's main problem isn't hard to locate. It's Ali. It isn't easy to root for someone so pungently prideful, relentlessly rude, and terribly sassy. I suppose this is purposeful. Shankman ("Hairspray") knows that for his characters to grow they must start small. But Ali has a boxer's lack of compassion. We first see this side of her in her Atlanta apartment as she throws biting insults at her clearly gay assistant (Josh Brener) on the basis of his gayness (really?). Most of the comedy doesn't exceed such low standards. Oh look, it's a dildo. Oh look, it's a condom. How clever!

Things really escalate on a girls night out. "I'm good with men, aren't I?" Ali sincerely asks at the dinner table with her pals. A few awkward glances confirm otherwise. So they bring in a psychic--a cross between Ava Duvernay and Merida from "Brave"-- to give her some much needed help. After a night of dancing, a blow to the head, and some spiked tea, she can now hear what men are thinking. Whether that proves to be a good thing remains to be seen. But what I can say is that it's a great thing for an otherwise bland script. It is impossible not to laugh as the camera tracks through the chic office. Men self consciously thinking about their fake watches, crude thoughts on women, and private poker nights, to which she shows up uninvited.

This thoughtful notion is nothing new for audiences. It is what made the shameless screw-ball romance exciting in "What Woman Want" (2000), in which a chauvinist Mel Gibson got into the mind of Helen Hunt before he could get on the wrong side of ours. The script and genders have been flipped, of course. What once was airy entertainment now is lousy punchlines and dreadfully serious socio-political resonance. A nice metaphor for today's Hollywood remakes.

It shouldn't take mind reading to know that women struggle in the workplace. Or that Tracy Morgan's controlling dad is a spin on Lavar Ball. "Stay in yo lane" he says repeatedly. (His son is the projected number one pick at the NBA draft, but he is thinking of sending him oversees). On top of that, in order to impress Morgan's character, Ali uses a caring father named Will (Aldis Hodge) and his adorable son as props for her fake family...without them knowing! By then you will have realized that the movie couldn't hit the ethical side of the rim if it was a layup. Though not for lack of trying.

There are always life lessons to be had in these movies. After a wedding that rivals the chaos of acceptance speeches in "A Star is Born," we learn that "it's not about what's in your head, it's about what's in your heart." After a movie this positively unpositive, I left knowing less about what men (or women) want than I did going in. And that's saying something.

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