By Kim Hughes
If there is a cinematic cliché not marshalled into service during What Men Want, it’s not easily identifiable.
This is a film without a glimmer of originality. It’s also spectacularly unfunny save one wisecrack sadly revealed in the trailer. It’s as if by openly riffing on the 2000 Nancy Meyers title, What Women Want — about a sexist doofus suddenly able hear women’s unspoken thoughts, thereby understanding (and empathizing with) their deeper impulses — the film has given itself licence to raid the entire rom-com canon, albeit to negligible effect and with fewer digressive pratfalls.
Perhaps the only genuinely entertaining aspect of What Men Want is playing a silent game of spot the rip-off.
Taraji P. Henson is Ali, an outstanding female sports agent working at big-league agency SWM (not to be confused with Jerry Maguire’s SMI, just one of many not-so-subtle lifts from that movie) who is passed over for deserved promotion in favour of an incompetent man (see also Second Act).
In a fit of pique, she and her girls get crazy (Girls Trip) and Ali surrenders to a mystic who gives her spiked tea. A knock on the head kicks the spell into gear (I Feel Pretty) and bam: Ali can read men’s thoughts, which turn out to be more or less what you’d expect from a film of this calibre: wolfish and witless. Never mind that the film is supposed to be railing against sexism. What’s offensive for the gander apparently does not apply to the goose.
To keep her job, Ali must sign a hot young basketballer to her agency though his obnoxious father/manager (Tracy Morgan doing Tracy Morgan, as usual) is standing in her way. So Ali leverages her single-father beau and his wildly precocious son (Jerry Maguire, again) to help demonstrate her family values. There’s Ali’s stereotypical gay sidekick (Sex and the City, Crazy Rich Asians et al), her loving, you-get-‘em-kid dad (Pretty in Pink), even a wedding disaster (Runaway Bride). And those are just the most obvious references. Honestly, you could recreate this tale in pastiche form using only the films of Jennifer Lopez.
Given how nakedly derivative it is, What Men Want should come off as a kind of greatest hits package. But the film’s absurdly tidy conclusion is within sight 15 minutes into the action (Jerry Maguire meets Second Act). We are left to wonder nothing, and to care even less. And can someone please explain the appeal of Tracy Morgan, an actor whose range seems to span from slurring to hollering? Talk about a must-miss.
What Men Want. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge, Erykah Badu, Pete Davidson and Wendi McLendon-Covey. Opens wide February 8.