Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
Gender-swapped remakes have been something of a trend in Hollywood recently, with releases such as 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2018’s Ocean’s 8 being the most prominent examples. And this trend is set to continue throughout 2019 with gender-swapped remakes of both Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Splash. Perhaps the most obvious movie in the past twenty years that was just begging for this treatment was Nancy Meyers’ 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want starring Mel Gibson. As a matter a fact, it is somewhat shocking that it took almost 19 years for that to happen. Enter What Men Want, starring Taraji P. Henson as the woman who suddenly finds herself with the ability to hear men’s thoughts.
Henson plays Ali Davis, a sports agent at a prominent Atlanta firm. When she is passed over for the promotion she felt she earned, she is told it is because she does not interact well with men and that she should remain “within her lane” (i.e., representing female clients). At an interaction with a psychic at her friend’s bachelorette party, she unknowingly drinks a drugged tea which leads to her knocking herself out at a nightclub. Shortly after awakening in the hospital, she realizes that she has suddenly developed the ability to read men’s thoughts. At first she wants to get rid of this, but then realizes a power like this could come in handy in her male-dominated profession.
The firm is in the process of wooing a young prospect named Jamal Barry, who is expected to be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft. The problem is that no one in the firm seems to truly understand what Jamal wants out of his representation. It does not help that the conversation is overpowered by Jamal’s father “Joe Dolla,” who seems mostly interested in what fame and money he can get out of his son’s success. Fortunately, with her newfound ability, Ali finds herself in the opportune position to win over Jamal and sign him to a contract, which would surely get her that promotion that she desires. Unfortunately, her pursuit of this singular goal blinds her to how her behavior is affecting the rest of the people around her.
In addition to the film upon which it is based, What Men Want also draws inspiration from and nods its head to Jerry Maguire, the granddaddy of all sports agent movies. Just as Jerry had to woo Frank Cushman’s father more so than Cush himself, Ali must win over Joe Dolla, who is clearly inspired by real-life NBA dad LaVar Ball. Ali’s desire to win over Joe Dolla leads her to the intended-for-men-only poker party populated by such popular NBA figures as Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, and Mark Cuban. It is one of the movie’s more humorous scenes, thanks largely to those celebrities being willing to poke a little fun at their images.
There are plenty of humorous moments throughout What Men Want and a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, but the incredibly predicable storyline holds it back. Ali’s character arc is by the book every step of the way, and with each new interaction she affects with her mind-reading ability it is easy to see ten steps ahead where that particular storyline is going to go bad, leading to the lengthy final act of the movie when Ali must ultimately put all the pieces back together. The movie’s only legitimately surprising plot twist is only so because it comes completely out of left field and is not motivated by what we knew about the characters to that point.
Taraji P. Henson is charming in the lead and she is given great support by Josh Brener, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and others. Erykah Badu is terrific as the psychic, and as a life-long Seattle Seahawks fan I would be remiss if I did not point out that Ali’s sexist boss is played by former Hawks linebacker Brian Bosworth.
What Men Want has its moments of delight, but falls short of being the year’s first must-see comedy.
What Men Want opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16, the AMC Kent Station 14, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Stadium Landing 14 in Renton.