What Men Want
WHAT MEN WANT-
You remember growing up hearing the phrase, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? I always thought how the heck could that ever be a bad thing? Be careful that I may wish for a million dollars and be rich. Be careful that I may wish for superpowers and can save the world. It’s amazing how over the years in cinema those themes have turned out some really funny thought provoking films that play on the uniqueness of getting something you seemingly never should’ve had and explores the lessons learned along the way at how what you always wanted taught you about appreciating what you already had.
In the case for Taraji P Henson’s most recent work, “What Men Want” a re-something sort of spin off of the Mel Gibson classic “What Women Want”; this take is 19 years late to the party strutting out less laughs per minute and not enough charm to champion the great question needing to be answered; what do “Men” want?
“What Men Want” centers on Ali Davis (Taraji) as a successful sports agent boxed out by her male counterparts at her firm "SWM" from becoming partner until she gains an unexpected edge that allows her to hear men’s thought’s.
Really promising premise, right? Lot of meat on the bone to chew on. Yet so much was left on the plate.
We follow Ali who is your stereotypical no nonsense, tight skirt wearing, fast talking, ball busting strong black lead, who leans so far to type and lands nowhere close to endearing or likable until the very last few sequences of the movie. I guess she’s meant to be not likable… at least I think that’s what the goal was. It’s hard at first to get a good feeling on what’s driving her inner goals. Outwardly it’s pretty clear Ali wants and expects to be made partner and is prepping herself for the big day, so much so she leases herself an early congrats gift in a new sports car.
As you may know, not only does she not get the promotion she believes she deserves but handles it even poorer to those she’s closest with. Ali is a woman who seems capable enough at getting laid, yet conflicting sentiments are made by her assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) who in this movie is the real standout and works the most. Don’t get me wrong he’s your typical friendly neighborhood gay best friend but is quite charming with his pipsqueak dainty look and he plays it well.
At this point in the movie I’m starting to get the idea that our writers are either operating from a place of tongue being planted firmly in cheek, or they miss the forest from the trees so bad an extra semester or 2 in screenwriting class is necessary.
Continuing along through our story Ali links up with long time college friends for a bachelorette party that are just surface level “sistas” plugged in to set up the inciting incident. It’s a real shame as their some talented actresses that are very capable of adding more to this film that could’ve enhanced how broken our lead character was. Ali is obviously ostracized or so were led to believe as the single woman of the group and is reluctant to take part in one of the girl’s wedding. Still wallowing in frustration from not getting the job she and the girls delight in some fortunetelling by “Sister” (Eryka Badu). She intuitively sees Ali’s wants and gives her some jacked up tea that enables her to hear men’s thoughts after she bumps her head at tasteless nightclub scene capper to the bachelorette party.
Finally, almost 30 minutes into the movie we can get things going. The pace picks up to match more of what we expected from the trailer. Its always unfortunate when dealing with a comedy, that the funnier jokes in its trailer don’t make it on to the big screen. What’s even more unfortunate for this movie’s case is the thoughts expressed on screen. That’s the big gimmick. How far can we go in the man’s mind?
Not very far!
There quite weird. Very incoherent and feel more like a bad improv sketch that made its way to the script. The physical humor delivered by Taraji was her best in the movie but there wasn’t enough to support the power of this premise. Ali quickly brings Brandon along for the ride and their chemistry works enough to get us through some poor pacing narratively, but when they’re not together the lack of comedic electricity feels dull and witless.
Ali comes to grips with her new powers after seeking to get rid of them from “Sister,” and attempts to use them to get what she wants and gain better insight into men.
The men of our movie, which there are many are uneven. There are some performances worthy of your laughter like Max Greenfield who was really good. He’s a charming yuppie who does enough to give you a rewarding arch that made you cheer at the end.
Then there’s Pete Davidson’s character who was just there. He takes his angry skinny guy shtick from "SNL" and applies to this movie that had one dick joke too many to make his appearance palatable, you just wanted to look away. Kind of similar to how I felt in all of the awkward and worthless cameos and other supporting performances both male and female.
Gosh I really didn’t want to make these distinctions but kind of hard not to.
Moving on, there’s a big fish in the agent pool to sign and Ali is up to land him. However, attached to that fish is a not so funny Tracy Morgan playing his dad “Joe Dolla Barry.”
Now I’m a big Tracy Morgan fan but you can tell when he’s Half-Assing” it at this point. This performance felt more like improv then actual script work. Which to be honest may have been the right call even if the improv worked only half the time. You definitely want to use the comic genius you hired but there comes a stark difference on display with his “thoughts” that are very Tracy compared to all the other men that aren’t.
There was a big opportunity for this movie to be and intelligent yet funny romantic comedy. A tale where Ali can get what she wants while succumbing to the pratfalls of the situation and exploring men differently now that she can hear their thoughts. Everyman’s thoughts in this story are perverse, peculiar, and an empty tank of one liners that fall as flat as the whole movie does. The one dude we get on camera with substance is our love interest Will (Aldis Hodge). He’s a single father bartender widower who is more of a woman and ends up teaching us more about life lessons throughout the movie than our lead. A kind of backwards out come if you ask me. And even more interesting as the credits have the screenplay being written by a woman. Ali is aggressive, doesn’t listen, competitive to a fault, and dishonest. She uses Will and his young son as a means to get closer to Joe Dolla and his soon to be drafted basket prodigy son who values family above everything. There a series of sequences that try to show some growth as Ali uses her powers to infiltrate the boys club at work but never matches the films potential in getting Ali along the way to connect with men.
That was the beauty of “What Women Want.” Mel Gibson’s character who started out as a chauvinistic pig increasingly connects to his inner woman, gets the girl, loses the power and is forever changed. Ali remains the same bitter woman throughout the movie even going as far as to ruin her girlfriends wedding; rightfully so as the man she was marrying was not faithful. But, she never connects to men to get and understand what makes them innately different.
Men are a lot more than the crude thoughts floating around in their mind. Don’t get me wrong. A lot of them are just as basic as that, but then again so are women. Ali had the opportunity to uncover hidden gems in every man. Use her powers to relate to men on a different level that should’ve taught her and the audience about seeing things from both sides and about giving up the power we desire relationally and situationally. She should’ve been able to give up the power willingly, on her own instead of accidentally losing it like the lazy way it was written when she was hit in the head with a flower pot.
Honestly that church scene looked like it was pulled out of a rejected “Madea Gets Married” movie.
Ali wakes up without her powers and now realizes the error of her ways. She loses her assistant, her friends, her boyfriend and almost her job and it’s until a final connection with her dad who was there all along that opens her eyes to be less like the woman she was and realize her self-worth is not going to come from a man’s approval.
The direction in this movie failed to show us what made Ali fundamentally flawed and how without the powers, she grew to do the right thing and become a better person. The writing in this movie failed to make us laugh at more than the gratuitous gender and gay jokes. “What Men Want” was late in its arrival but felt so much like a bad comedy movie stuck in 1999 with unmemorable cameos and a lead that can get you to buy a ticket to the movie, but not learn a lesson while you’re there.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 5/10
Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck, Alex Gregory
Starring: Taraji P Henson, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Aldis Hodge
Run Time: 117 mins