Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is at the top of her game in a sports agency. However she frequently finds herself shut out of the dominantly male environment and gets told she ‘doesn’t get’ men. At her friend’s hen party, a psychic gives her a ‘potion’ which she promises will help Ali ‘connect with men’. The next day, she can hear the inner thoughts of all the men around her. She decides to use the newfound ability to her advantage, both in her work environment and with Will (Aldis Hodge), a man she just started seeing.
Even with such writers as Jas Waters (‘This is Us’, ‘Kidding’) and Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck (‘Veep’, ‘King of the Hill’) on board, ‘What Men Want’ fails to take off. It feels too safe, by the numbers and predictable. There are even a couple of MeToo references that seem perfunctory. It’s just not as funny, progressive or challenging as the concept – a gender swapped remake of the Mel Gibson starrer ‘What Women Want’ – would have allowed it to be.
The first laugh-out-loud moment comes well into the movie from a kid and his enthusiasm for ‘Black Panther’. A later allusion to ‘Get Out’ also sparked some laughs but for much of the film, the ambience in the audience was one of boredom. A lot of ‘What Men Want’s humour derives from how men are gross, unfaithful and obsessed with sex. Elsewhere Henson’s hysterics, whether she’s screaming her head off or partying like crazy, provide the laughs. In fairness to the writers now, you have to admire the realness of Ali’s character. She’s freaky, enjoys sex (there’s a very true-to-life scene of her getting ready in the bathroom before sex which women will definitely relate to), tough, hard-working and fiercely independent. It’s a well-rounded character and Taraji P. Henson is fantastic in the part.
There are few standouts aside from Henson. Richard Roundtree has some nice moments playing Skip, Ali’s father, while Josh Brener is actually quite charming and adorably dorky as Ali’s PA. However the likes of Max Greenfield (‘New Girl’) have little to do, while Ali’s girlfriends – Wendi McLendon-Covey (whose defining characteristic is that she ‘found Jesus’), Tamala Jones and Phoebe Robinson – are essentially interchangeable, and such actors as Tracy Morgan and Pete Davidson are just plain annoying. To add to the film’s annoyances, Fiji water has never been so obviously and forcefully advertised (yes, it’s even worse than that Golden Globes stunt). Their taking every advantage to plaster the brand about the scene was probably the only aspect of the film that didn’t scream ‘missed opportunity.’