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Rebooted properties can work. We’ve seen this over and over again on the big and small screen, but we’ve also seen a fair amount of resistance to these properties, especially when they change the gender of the lead characters. Luckily, female-geared comedies tend to do well with either male or female leads and Taraji P. Henson is the right actress for the role in What Men Want. Ultimately, it’s also just a cute movie in general.
“Cute” is an adjective Taraji P. Henson’s character Ali would probably despair of hearing at the start of the film. She’s a sports agent—and one of the few females in a prominent firm—who prides herself on being one of the boys. However, she really doesn’t know how she comes off to the men (and women) in her life. In fact, she thinks she's missing out on opportunities because she's a woman when often it's because her heart isn't in the right place. When she talks to her co-workers, including her assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) and her peer Kevin (Max Greenfield), she’s off-putting, mean-spirited and decidedly not a team player.
When she meets a sketchy psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu) during a bachelorette party with her gal pals (played by Phoebe Robinson, Tamala Jones and Wendi McLendon-Covey), Ali ends up drinking a tea that leads to a long night out. During the night she hits her head and voila!, she can hear mens’ thoughts.
The plot of this movie largely hits the same notes as the original franchise movie, Mel Gibson's What Women Want, so it’s nothing to write home about. Still, the subplots culminate in sometimes zany hilarity and each of the side characters (McLendon-Covey, Tracy Morgan and Pete Davidson in particular) stand out.
Taraji P. Henson is not a particularly funny person naturally, but she’s a masterful physical comedienne in What Men Want, whether she’s running away from men with outside-the-box sexual preferences or getting hit by vases during a spat with her girlfriends. She’s sort of in the same powerful woman lane in What Men Want that she plays on Fox’s Empire, yet personally I find this to be Henson at her best. The fact this is a “lesson learning” movie keeps Ali from coming off as too abrasive, as well.
It also helps Taraji P. Henson is mostly surrounded by a funny cast. If you’ve seen the trailer for What Men Want, I can confirm the “I thought black people stopped drinking tea after Get Out” line gets loud laughs, although I personally think Tracy Morgan talking about smoothies and Chinese America relations or Wendi McLendon-Covey declining bongs because she’s into Jesus stand out. There are some jokes that did miss the mark for me, but the humor is broad, and different jokes should land with different people in the audience.
Of course, in the end What Men Want is a misleading title. The movie’s really about Taraji P. Henson going after what she wants and creating a balance in her life between work and play along the way. There is a man in question, Will (Aldis Hodge), yet Ali’s romance with him really serves to move her social awakening forward rather than acts as the basic crux of the whole movie. I’m happy to report this is an advantage and not a disadvantage.
If you liked What Women Want, the beats in director Adam Shankman’s soft reboot are a little different, but overall you should get exactly what you are expecting with this movie: a familiar plot, a few laughs and a female-led take on what the world looks like for one individual who is gifted with a life-changing power.
It’s not a superhero movie nor is it a super one, but even the most ardent of rom-com haters who get dragged to this movie on date night should find it watchable.