“What Men Want” lustily pursues the comedic aspects of its premise, but actually proves more satisfying in its quiet, bordering on sappy moments. The result is a mildly pleasant but significantly flawed vehicle for Taraji P. Henson, braving the question as to whether that’s what movie-goers want.
The “Empire” star certainly throws her all into this gender-switch remake of the 2000 comedy “What Women Want” that starred Mel Gibson. Here, Henson plays Ali Davis, a hard-charging sports agent in a male-dominated field, where she endures “locker-room talk” and yearns to be a member of the boys’ club, despite being frozen out of things like the partners’ secret poker game.
Denied a promotion because, she’s told, “you don’t connect well with men,” her fortunes quickly change with a bachelor-party encounter with a psychic (Erykah Badu), followed by a sharp blow to the head. Ali awakens with the ability to hear men’s thoughts, a gift that fleetingly threatens to drive her mad, until she recognizes how useful it might be.
Specifically, she puts her new power to work trying to land a top basketball prospect (Shane Paul McGhie), whose eccentric father (Tracy Morgan at full-tilt crazy, for better and mostly worse) is the guiding force behind his career.
Knowing what men think also comes in handy with a new relationship involving Will (Aldis Hodge), a single dad, who Ali winds up manipulating for reasons both personal and professional.
The movie, directed by Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”), surrounds Henson with a gifted support squad featuring plenty of other TV stars, including Josh Brener as her harried assistant, Pete Davidson, Jason Jones and Max Greenfield as back-slapping coworkers and Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones and Phoebe Robinson as her best friends. There are also several cameos by athletes playing themselves (and even NBA commissioner Adam Silver), along with former football star Brian Bosworth as the firm’s senior partner.
Still, “What Men Want” often appears to be working too hard at being bawdy, in the way R-rated comedies sometimes do. By contrast, the more intimate scenes – beginning with Ali’s relationship with her dad (Richard Roundtree), who brought her up to be tough and self-sufficient – generally prove more effective.
Ultimately, Ali’s preconceived notions about what men want – basically, money and sex – help trip up the movie, whose more madcap representations of those innermost thoughts don’t make the most of the concept.
Muting the spark of creativity, “What Women Want” seems as if it’s trying to guess what various quadrants of its audience will want, and you needn’t be a mind reader to see how that strategy usually works out.
“What Men Want” opens Feb. 8 in the U.S. It’s rated R.