‘What Men Want’: Taraji P. Henson shines in so-so romantic comedy (review)

February 8, 2019 GMT

‘What Men Want’: Taraji P. Henson shines in so-so romantic comedy (review)

“What Men Want” has almost everything a hit movie needs. There’s the talented, diverse cast, led by the engaging Taraji P. Henson; a fun premise that already proved a hit nearly 20 years ago; and an experienced filmmaking team including director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and a gaggle of writers and producers with credits such as “Girls Trip,” the original “Roseanne” and HBO’s “Veep” on their resumes.

And yet there’s something missing. A couple of things, actually: a focused script, and solid laughs. It’s entertaining, but not as satisfying as it could have been.

Henson, the Oscar-nominated movie actress and award winner for TV’s “Empire,” plays Ali Davis, a smart, confident and fiercely ambitious sports agent at a big Atlanta agency where she’s surrounded by men. On this day, she’s a little too confident, though, as the promotion she knew was finally hers goes — once again — to one of her male colleagues.

Her boss (played by ex-NFL player turned actor Brian Bosworth) blames her for his boneheaded decision, saying she “doesn’t connect with men.” And so a little screenplay magic happens, and after a drunken night out with the girls — and an encounter with a very strange, possibly very stoned mystic named Sister (the funny Erykah Badu) — Ali wakes up with the ability to read men’s inner thoughts.

After the initial shock, Ali realizes she can use her new gift to best her colleagues and win a highly sought-after new client, a future basketball superstar with an overbearing but well-meaning father (played by Tracy Morgan, in a role that feels unfocused as the script). At the same time, her personal life heats up after meeting Will (Aldis Hodge), a bartender and single dad who might also be the key to her winning that promotion.

“What Men Want” is a gender-reversal of the 2000 comedy “What Women Want,” starring Mel Gibson. But while Gibson’s character is clearly a jerk from the start, and deserves a little misery before his redemption, Henson’s character only seems misguided, not mean.

Sure, she berates her long-suffering but loyal assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener, HBO’s “Silicon Valley”), but theirs is a relationship of the movies — it’s clear she’s fond of him, and he of her, despite all her yelling. She’s also close to her dad (Richard Roundtree), who was a single father himself.

It’s this middle part — when the people around her start convincing her she needs so much changing — where the movie starts to somehow feel both rushed and inert. Subplots involving Ali’s girlfriends and co-workers start to pile up without really going anywhere. So much so that the sweet romance between Ali and bartender Will gets shoved into the background for long spells.

What ultimately makes the film entertaining, even with its flaws, is the cast. Henson is fierce, funny and always fun to watch. She and Hodge have a palpable chemistry, and their characters’ burgeoning romance should have been the real focus of the movie, not Ali’s workplace drama.

Max Greenfield has a small but key role as one of Ali’s lesser-annoying colleagues. Roundtree’s scenes are some of the movie’s best.

Meanwhile, Brener, as Ali’s right-hand-man, steals every moment he’s on camera. He and Henson are such fun to watch together, their characters deserve their own movie.


What Men Want

Who: Directed by Adam Shankman. With Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tracy Morgan.

Rated: R for language, sexual content and some drug use.

Running time: 117 minutes.

When: Opens Friday, Feb. 8.

Where: Area theaters.

Grade: B