Even if you somehow never saw the book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man at the grocery store checkout line or in TV ads, there's pretty much no way you won't know everything about its contents, its message, or its author Steve Harvey by the end of the new movie based on it, Think Like A Man. Unlike He's Just Not That Into You, which adapted a self-help book into a bland and sprawling rom-com, Harvey's book is at the center of the equally bland and sprawling Think Like A Man-- the author and actor himself pops up frequently to dish out bits of wisdom, and all of the characters carry the book around as if it were the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It's unclear if writers Keith Merryman or David A. Newman simply couldn't think of a more clever way to adapt the material, or if Harvey himself demanded to hang over the moving like some advice-spewing Cheshire Cat, but Think Like A Man quickly becomes exhausting in adhering to its many lessons, all mostly about how women can manipulate the men in their lives to treat them better. There's the single mom (Regina Hall) who learns to be up front with her momma's boy beau (Terrence J), the frustrated long-term girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) redecorating her house against her boyfriend's (Jerry Ferrara) will, and the sly single gal (Meagan Good) who decides to wait a full 90 days before letting her new guy (Romany Malco) have the "cookie"-- come on, you know what this PG-13 movie means by that.
There's also a courtship between a high-powered executive (Taraji P. Henson) and an aspiring chef currently working as a caterer (Michael Ealy), the only relationship that breaks the mold by having the woman be the one who learns a lesson. All the guys hang out in a thrice-weekly basketball game, swapping dating advice and joshing around, which means their encounters occasionally focus on something other than the relationships we're seeing play out on screen (Kevin Hart, in a fast-talking comic relief role, provides most of that). But the women talk exclusively about the men, usually in platitudes cribbed directly from Harvey's book, and at two-plus hours Think Like A Man might take as long as actually reading the book yourself.
To its credit, the movie is often much funnier than it could have been, usually thanks to Hart or some jabs amongst the guys that zing a little harder than you expect-- though Union and Good both take advantage of their straightforward characters to add spots of comic zest as well. Tim Story, who made Barbershop before a misguided venture into the Fantastic Four movies, directs with a quick pace and a willingness to cut his performers loose when necessary, especially Hart, whose storyline only develops near the end but pays off nicely. And the glossy production design gives the women fantastic outfits and every apartment, no matter how humble, a sitcom-y sheen-- no small compensation when the story stalls out in the second act and your mind may wander to wondering how Good maintains such a great manicure in every scene.
Early on in the movie two different characters take shots at Tyler Perry movies, setting them up as the kind of lame rom-coms that everyone in this world ought to be moving past. And if Tyler Perry's melodramatic tales-- in which love is only possible once you've undergone hardship and embraced Jesus together-- are really the only model for African-American relationships at the movies these days, then Think Like A Man really is something special, if only for being as zippy, bland and secular as any other studio romantic comedy. By relying heavily on gender stereotypes that assume every woman wants to get married-- unless it's Henson's character, "The woman who is her own man"-- and every man wants nothing more than to play basketball and drink with his buddies, Think Like A Man sets up easy sides in its game of love, then spends two hours pretending it's difficult to reconcile the two. As in any rom-com, no one's actual relationship is like this, but that doesn't mean we can't continue taking some very guilty pleasure in watching it all play out anyway.