‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film What Men Want has been promoted as a remake response film to the successful 2000 Mel Gibson movie What Women Want. Instead of a male learning to become a better man as he learns about women by hearing their thoughts, we have a woman who simply tries to manipulate the men around her and causes chaos for all.
Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is a workaholic sports agent with the best numbers among her peers in a large sports firm. Still, she gets passed over for promotion time after time and is actually told that she doesn’t get along that well with men. Added to that, she is also told to “stay in your own lane.” Instead of filing a discrimination suit that would be an easy victory, she gets drunk and has a one-night stand with a bartender (Aldis Hodge), who is actually a decent guy, so she ignores him for a while. She loses a possible client and in a semi-fog goes to a psychic (Erykah Badu), who feeds her weird tea leaves. She hits her head a bit later and can suddenly hear men’s thoughts.
This does give her a great advantage, except, since this is a comedy, she blows it. Trying to use her advantage, she does everything wrong. She has quick sex with a lot of men, tossing them aside as soon as she gets satisfied. She ignores her girlfriends, who really want to help her, and all in the name of a promotion that might mean less than she imagines.
Ali gets challenged to sign a young basketball player Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). Her problem is that the person deciding on representation is Jamal’s father Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan), who really believes in family. Ali (pronounced like the famed fighter because her dad was a fan) brings the bartender and his six-year-old son as her family, assuming that because she can read their thoughts, she can get away with the game she is playing. And things, not surprisingly, don’t go well.
The cast is good, although Henson, a truly superior actress, overdoes the force. She goes all out so much that there is not nearly as much contrast and shading as there might be. Morgan is fabulous, as usual. He walks away with his scenes. And I really liked Hodge as man who tries to teach Ali that sex is better when there is love involved. But the funniest of all is Badu as the psychic. Since her main job is as a singer, she was a delightful surprise, totally daffy throughout her scenes.
What was really missing from the film is what made the male version have meaning for me. Mel Gibson hearing women’s thoughts taught him that women despised him, and he listened. He helped a young woman he had previously ignored at work through a crisis, really connected with his teen daughter and did right by the women he had pushed aside through his actions. One of the keys in the film was the promotion of the reality that women do have thoughts and feelings different than men, and Gibson (and presumably much of the audience) learns to respect that. Ali simply used her ability as a form of manipulation — and the men seem never to think at all.
Things have changed greatly in terms of the balance of the war of the sexes in recent years. There is a passing allusion to the #MeToo movement in the film, just a mention. That could have led to some interesting situations. Unfortunately, director Adam Shankman focuses on the raunch and not on much else. The men in the film almost never have anything useful to say. Their minds seem limited to being good “bros” and admiring key body parts of females around them. Had the first movie done that to women, there might have been major protests. Calling men names has become so commonplace that few people even seem to notice any more.
Still, the movie does have more than a few laughs, even if some of them are due to gross humor. I did laugh some of the time, but, frankly, I was not able to sympathize much with Ali as time went on. She could have learned; instead, she tried to rule.
This is one that can be easily skipped.