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Gibson, Hunt square off in that old battle of the sexes

'What Women Want' good for a few giggles


In this story:

New boss is a dame!

Same ol' formula

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



(CNN) -- In the new romantic comedy, "What Women Want," Mel Gibson plays Nick Marshall, a hotshot advertising executive. Nick is a handsome, charming man who's apparently irresistible to women.

Now, while you contemplate that obvious piece of typecasting, consider this: unbeknownst to him, and despite his obvious physical attractions, 90 percent of the women in his life -- his 16-year-old daughter Alex (Ashley Johnson) among them -- find Nick a boring, sexist pig.

That's the film's opening premise, which makes way for all that follows.

The story begins as Nick's ex-wife Gigi (Lauren Holly) is preparing for her wedding to husband No. 2. While strolling down memory lane, she tells her bridesmaids about her ill-fated first marriage. The audience gets a rundown on Nick's past in the process.

The only child of a Vegas showgirl, Nick grew up backstage surrounded by scantily clad, huge-breasted women who showered him with affection and attention. Small wonder, then, that the grown Nick is comfortable assuming he is God's gift to women.

Nick is a guy's guy. He's in a sweet cocoon of success at a top Chicago advertising firm where he specializes in ads featuring babes in bikinis. He lives in the ultimate bachelor's pad and fancies himself a one-man Rat Pack, the natural successor to Frank, Dino, Sammy and the gang. Wine, women and song are the main staples in his life.

Then his neat little sexist world blows apart when his boss (Alan Alda) tells him that times have changed and the hot market is now led by women consumers. In other words, babes in bikinis do not make the fair sex rush out to buy beer and hot cars. The new frontier is pantyhose, lip gloss and bath beads.

Women make up a $40 billion consumer market, and Nick has become a dinosaur in the fast-paced world of advertising.

New boss is a dame!

Enter Helen Hunt as Darcy Maguire. She's a rising star in advertising and is a reputed man-eating, take-no-prisoners executive. She also is Nick's new boss -- the job he thought was going to be his. He's not happy. Both are prepared for battle.

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Reflections on performing, parenting, pantyhose

Mel Gibson ponders 'What Women Want'
 
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In her first day on the job Darcy gives all her employees a box full of woman's products -- leg wax, mascara, pantyhose and asks each to take items home and come up with ideas about how to sell them.

At home that night, Nick drinks a bottle of wine and, thus lubricated, decides to try all the products himself, hoping to get into the female mindset. The ensuing scene is hilarious - if a bit predictable -- as Gibson Puts on pantyhose and tries to wax his legs. It's a clever send-up of his action-hero image.

Then a freaky (to say the least) accident happens, involving a hair dryer and a bathtub full of water. The next day, dazed, confused and sober, Nick discovers he can suddenly hear women's inner thoughts! He's bombarded with information, much of it unflattering: Most of the women in his life, he discovers, think he's a jerk.

At first he panics, then Nick realizes this strange new power could be used to his advantage, especially at work, since he can now read Darcy's mind.

He does read her thoughts, and manages to fall in love with the boss. Nick also gets annoyingly in touch with his feminine side. The results of these revelations, and his attempts to deny them, drive the story to a final conclusion that is suspiciously similar to the last scene in 1990's megahit "Pretty Woman."

Same ol' formula

Over the last decade writer/director Nancy Meyers has quietly become a force to be reckoned with in the field of "feel good" romantic comedies. As a screenwriter, she penned high profile-films such as "Private Benjamin" (1980) and "Baby Boom" (1987). This is her second time in the director's chair; her debut was 1998's "The Parent Trap." "What Women Want" does not stray far from this warm-and-fuzzy genre.

Gibson gives his all as he dances with a hat rack, a la Fred Astaire, (actually a very charming scene), and proves he can handle comedic timing with style and flair. Helen I've -been-in-every-movie-released-in-the-last-two-months Hunt once comes across as both sexy and smart, though her squinty-eyed, overly sincere delivery is the same as always. Only the shade of her blond locks changes from film to film.

Lauren Holly, Delta Burke, Bette Midler and Valerie Perrine are underutilized in sparsely developed, one-dimensional supporting roles. Burke and Perrine are particularly embarrassing as Nick's air-headed assistants. Marisa Tomei does get a few good scenes as an actress working in a coffee bar who succumbs to Nick's charms.

Bottom line: "What Women Want" is the only high-profile, big-studio romantic comedy in current release qualifying as a date movie with any chance of appealing to both sexes.

So set your standards on neutral, and enjoy it for exactly what it is -- mindless entertainment that will make you laugh but won't linger in your mind much farther than the theater's parking lot.

"What Women Want" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG. 160 minutes.



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