What Men Want – 60% Out Of 100

Let’s cut to the chase. What Men Want left me feeling a little indifferent.

It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it something I’d write home about (the irony that I’m currently writing about this at home is not lost on me), just the simplicity of it all lent itself to obsoletion. But is that a bad thing? Does every project have to make you think? Are movies not a medium for escapism? Perhaps, and if we’re to go by the original Mel Gibson’s almost 20 years old original What Women Want (WWW), maybe all we should be looking for is an enjoyable and comedic ride of ‘what-ifs‘. Maybe.

What Men Want’s (WMW) premise is a simple one. Passed up for a well‑deserved promotion, sports agent Ali Davis (Taraji P Henson) wonders what else she needs to do to succeed in a man’s world. Hoping to find answers from a psychic (Erykah Badu), Ali drinks a weird concoction which suddenly allows her to hear what men are thinking.

Albeit predictable in story, there’s a real opportunity to implement style and added substance with the perspective of the woman. Flipping the gender roles is a genius move, but there’s a failure to tell us something new, especially in the discourse of men across the film. Men are trash, this we can agree on, but the pre-recorded lines not even remotely designed to imitate authentic men’s inner-monologue left me wondering whether there was any leg room in the script department to modernise the feel of the movie.

Ali’s combination of determination, skill and a touch of psychic-powered spiked tea provided by the clearly improv-instructed Badu provides her with the tool she needs to sign potential NBA 1st Draft pick Jamal Barry (Shane Paul Mcghie). Of course, it’s not made easy as Jamal’s father, Joe Dolla (Tracy Morgan) is untrustworthy of a woman without a family – cue the love interest Will (Aldis Hodge) and his son Ben (Auston Jon Moore) who Ali pawns off as her own family, unbeknownst to them.

What follows is the obvious formulaic mix-up where Ali is found out and has to prove her worth to Will, her work colleagues and closest friends played by Pheobe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Tamala Jones who I’ve missed seeing on our screens again after her endless appearances in black movies/TV shows during the nineties and noughties.

Where its predecessor WWW enabled Mel Gibson’s character to learn more about the opposite sex whilst taking advantage of his powers, WMW perhaps dropped the ball by only using the powers for cheap comedy and clichés. Maybe that was a statement within itself, WWW taught us that women are smarter and better than what men thought, WMW taught us that men are all ego and exactly what women thought. Meh.

For a script that under-delivered, I still believe it was performed to the best of its ability by a strong cast. Henson demonstrated once again that she can hold her own as a leading lady, bringing presence and comedic timing to Ali who consistently has to compete in an agency of male archetypes including the camp white assistant trying to add ‘blackness’ in his dialect (Josh Brener), the over eccentric jock-mentality type who is hiding a homosexual secret (Pete Davidson), the ego-maniac dosed in insecurity (Jason Jones).

WWW is another passenger on the ever successful Will Packer Production train. I welcome a black female take on a mainstream hit, I just wish it was more remix than remake.

What Men Want is in UK cinemas Friday 15th March 2019


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