What Men Want is the female oriented remake of Mel Gibson’s hit 2000 comedy. Taraji P. Henson stars as a successful woman who can hear what men are thinking. The premise is a gold mine of awkward sexual encounters. The low brow humor and healthy sprinkling of F-bombs delivers several laugh out loud moments. Henson shows off her dynamic range with a surprisingly physical performance. An overly dramatic subplot and nearly tedious two hour runtime threaten the giddy mood. I mentally checked out for the sappy scenes, but was reeled back in by the raunchiness.
Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is a high powered agent for an Atlanta sports management firm. She’s the only black woman in an office of cutthroat, sexist men. Ali is livid when passed over for a promotion to company partner. She dumps her frustrations on her diminutive homosexual assistant, Brandon (Josh Brener). Ali doesn’t realize that she’s a severely unlikeable person. Her doting father (Richard Roundtree), three best friends (Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey), and hunky bartender (Aldis Hodge) put up with her selfish personality.
Ali seizes another chance to become partner. A talented basketball prospect (Shane Paul McGhie) is expected to be the NBA’s top draft pick. Every agent in Atlanta is clamoring to sign him. The problem is winning over his goofball father (Tracy Morgan). Just when Ali thinks she can’t find an edge over her competition, a chance encounter with a strange psychic (Erykah Badu) yields unexpected results. Ali can now hear the innermost thoughts of men. She’s at first terrified by this ability, but quickly embraces her newfound power.
What Men Want doesn’t refrain from getting dirty. It goes low early and often to set the tone for the film. Sex, both straight and gay, is the primary focus of Ali’s mind reading skills. She gleefully beds conquests while prodding her hapless assistant’s love life. These scenes could be pulled from a teenage sex comedy and are pretty damn funny. One encounter in particular with a building stud had my audience in hysterics. Taraji P. Henson goes from a classy business woman to a bedroom bronco. She’s an alpha to her core, getting what she wants from her dalliances. These are the funniest parts in What Men Want and will certainly be crowd pleasers.
The film falters when it strays from the horndog humor. Director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner, A Walk to Remember) can’t shake his romantic comedy roots. He spends way too much time on a painfully predictable subplot. Shankman wants to show the protagonist abandoning her selfish ways for true love. It’s melodramatic nonsense that torpedoes the funny bits. He needed to stick to the gutter humor and forget the character growth. That works when you have a great script. What Men Want does not, so it overreaches for depth.
What Men Want succeeds as a female empowerment story. Flipping the lead character to a black woman is a refreshing take on the original’s premise. The women in the film have distinct, strong personalities. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis as supremely confident. Her self worth is not predicated on her looks or male approval. The film has a couple male supporting characters that are crippled by doubt. They mask their fears with false bravado, showing that anyone can have low self esteem.
What Men Want is a vehicle for Taraji P. Henson’s remarkable talent. She’s been a Hollywood staple for years, finally getting her chance to shine as a leading lady. What Men Want will resonate with women and as a date film. I laughed throughout and enjoyed Taraji P. Henson’s performance, so am giving a recommendation on those merits. Paramount Pictures may have a hit on par with the original.