Taraji P. Henson Shows off Her Comedic Chops in ‘What Men Want’
18 years after Mel Gibson first uncovered the secrets of the fairer sex in “What Women Want,” Taraji P. Henson gets her chance to hear the innermost thoughts of the opposite sex in the gender-swapped remake “What Men Want.” When the original film was released, there was an assumption that the reverse situation wouldn’t make for a compelling story, as men lack that mystique that all women supposedly have. However, as long as boys clubs exist, there will always be women left in the dark, as is the case for Ali (Henson), a female sports agent who is repeatedly passed over for partner at her firm in favor of less experienced men who suck up to the bosses over whiskey and secret poker games. While this new film doesn’t exactly present any profound revelations about relationships between the sexes, having an actress of Henson’s caliber in the front seat makes for a fun ride.
Although she has an impressive roster of clients like Serena Williams and Lisa Leslie, Ali is told she can’t get ahead without signing bigger names, i.e. male athletes. “You just don’t connect with men,” says her chauvinist boss (Brian Bosworth). This motivates her to go after the hot guy of the moment, No. 1 NBA draft pick, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). This means going through the young man’s overbearing father/manager (dadager?), the outlandish Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan, doing what he does best).
Ali acquires her ability to read male minds after a crazy evening that involves a bachelorette party with her best gal pals (Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey), a wacky psychic (singer Erykah Badu, who proves to be surprisingly hilarious), a dance club, and ends with Ali being knocked in the head. After she comes to in the hospital, she finds that she has the ability to read male minds. The only person she initially makes aware of her newfound talent is her assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener), a lovable dork who takes on many of her burdens.
“What Men Want” includes a cliché-ridden subplot involving Ali romance with a single dad (Aldis Hodge). It mostly revolves around her learning some Tyler Perry-esque lessons about family, although there are some funny sex scenes between the two. Mostly, Ali uses her power to get ahead at work. Yes, the men’s thoughts are often as crude and blunt as one can imagine, but they also allow Ali to gain valuable insight. Her findings at times are surprising, especially when it comes to the outwardly “douchey” Kevin (the charismatic Max Greenfield). Anyone who has ever worked in an office will tell you how hard brutally honest feedback is hard to come by, and Ali uses her “gift” to her advantage.
While Ali’s own romance is pretty stale, there is a fun and sexy subplot involving her playing matchmaker for Brandon and a closeted coworker (Pete Davidson, who is apparently now irresistible to both sexes). And while the third act loses some momentum at certain points, Henson remains a force, and the centerpiece scene in which Ali reaches a breaking point at a huge wedding provides plenty of laughs.
“What Men Want” opens Feb. 8 nationwide.