There Is Nothing Much To Want In Taraji P Henson’s Gender Swapped “What Men Want”
I have come to find out that Taraji P Henson may know “What Men Want”, but she didn’t know what I wanted. If she did I wouldn’t have had to sit through the two hours of atrocity that is her newest film “What Men Want”.
“What Men Want” is a remake of the far superior and smarter 2000 Nancy Meyers comedy called “What Women Want” starring a perfectly casted Mel Gibson. It was a PG-13 romantic comedy with that trademark style of director Nancy Meyers. I have a lot of respect for her and her films, especially “What Women Want” which is her best and my favorite film of her career, right next to “Something’s Gotta Give”.
Apparently the low brain screenwriters of Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory felt an already perfect film was ripe for a do over. If remaking an original concept from “What Women Want” wasn’t already a bad idea, Paramount made an even worst decision by hiring director Adam Shankman, a helmer of some terrible movies but has some hits under his belt (“The Wedding Planner”, “A Walk To Remember” and “Bringing Down The House”). Shankman felt he should play “What Men Want” as broadly as possible, being stuck with his desire to craft his first R-rated film. Shankman doesn’t know what he’s doing with the feature, he directs a Farrelly Brothers style comedy but without the passion and funny gags that the brothers are so good at. Instead coasting on painfully inept jokes and an uninspired direction to the film.
In the Nancy Meyers directed “What Women Want,” Mel Gibson’s Nick Marshall is a boorish, sexist advertising executive in Chicago who is knocked out by an electric shock (which is referenced in the new film), wakes up and discovers he can hear women’s thoughts. In “What Men Want,” the story is relocated to Atlanta, where Taraji P Henson’s character Ali is a career driven sports agent, that works for a powerful agency that suffers from obvious staged for a movie cliche of about 200 employees scrambling around instead of getting actual work done and working out of a headquarters that is ridiculously larger than it should be.
Her big league agency is called SWM, which is awfully similar to “Jerry Maguire’s” sports agency SMI. Ali who is passed over for a deserved promotion in favour of an incompetent man, hey wait didn’t we just see this? Yes we have, we saw this last month done to much better effect in Jennifer Lopez’s film “Second Act”.
Along the way, she drinks some tea and bangs her head in a night club and then, wham boom she can hear the inner thoughts of any man nearby. The transformation happens about 30 minutes in, which is an eternity of drab set-up. Again all this including the ability to getting her hearing super power is done much better in Mel Gibson’s film. That includes the sequence of her being over run by male thoughts, which was smarter and funnier in Gibson’s film. If anything can possibly save “What Men Want”, is it’s star the beautiful Taraji P Henson. Henson displays impeccable comedic timing, and “What Men Want” is the perfect showcase to show audiences that when she commits to a role she commits to a role, and she is the primary reason the film is even remotely entertaining and watchable.
There’s a hit and miss to the comedic set pieces. A wedding ceremony gone wrong is more of a cliched “Girl you pulling my weave” cringe inducing slapstick sequence that thinks it’s funnier than it is. A sequence at a poker game in which Ali plays against her boss played by ex NFL Star Brian Bosworth, Max Greenfield (Schmidt from “New Girl”), Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy Morgan and other male cast members is flat-out funny. The sex scenes with Ali and her potential love interest in the film Will are awkward and tries to be as memorably hilarious as the Mel Gibson and Marisa Tomei hookup in the original film.
There are believe it or not time set aside for a touching scenes, such as when Ali’s father (“Shaft’s” Richard Roundtree) and Will bond over their common experience as men who lost their wives too soon and had to raise a child on their own. There’s a weird ’90s feel to the look and dialogue, that is accentuated by a dusty soundtrack that features hits by TLC, 2 Live Crew, En Vogue and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” also featured in the recent JLo film “Second Act”.
“What Men Want” tries to do far too much, and much of it is too much of a distraction from the stuff that does work, which is not much. Ultimately, “What Men Want” showcases a mainstream multiracial comedy. “What Women Want” flowed from one great scene to the next which unfortunately “What Men Want” doesn’t. I left the film not any more certain about what men want, but I’m absolutely positive about what I wanted: the projectionist to stop the film and pop in the Blu Ray of “What Women Want” and show us that instead. Now that’s what both the men and women of the audience would have wanted.
GRADE: ★1/2 OUT OF ★★★★★