“What Men Want” is officially credited as a remake of 2000’s “What Women Want,” but the films have little in common beyond the central premise of someone being able to hear the thoughts of the opposite sex. It seems like an arbitrary distinction. Do all body-swap comedies have to acknowledge “Freaky Friday” as their inspiration?
Anyway, this much bawdier take on the idea, directed by Adam Shankman (“Rock of Ages,” “Hairspray”), replaces Mel Gibson with Taraji P. Henson (solid choice) as Ali Davis, the only female sports agent in an office full of alpha males. While celebrating a bachelorette party with gal pals, Ali visits a shady psychic (a loony Erykah Badu) and subsequently hits her head, whereupon she can hear men’s thoughts. She briefly freaks out, but then, upon confirming with her mousy gay assistant (Josh Brener) that the power is real, she realizes how it can work to her advantage. Now she can get inside the mind of the hotshot basketball player she’s trying to sign (Shane Paul McGhie), and of his crazy father (Tracy Morgan), and of the handsome bartender she’s just started dating (Aldis Hodge)!
Though fitfully amusing, the film fails to meet its potential in several ways. The thoughts that Ali overhears as she passes men tend to be jokey non sequiturs — “This whole ‘wearing women’s underwear’ thing is great. Who knew?”; “I’m getting fat — like Rerun fat” — or expository lines that sum up the man’s personality (like if she passed me, she’d hear me thinking, “Gee, I sure love writing and movies, and am also gay!”). These are hit-or-miss, humorwise. The conflict lies not in Ali using her ESP to gain information she shouldn’t have, but in a dumb farce situation where she lets the basketball player’s family-oriented dad think she’s married to Will the handsome bartender but doesn’t tell Will about the ruse. When Will finds out — well, now there’s a lie for him to be upset about, as is required for all romantic comedies.
Which is ultimately what this is: just another romantic comedy full of blah rom-com tropes. Henson gives it her all, and her funny, feisty attitude helps immeasurably, but she can’t overcome the weakness of the heavily rewritten screenplay (credited to Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck, and Alex Gregory). A movie with this premise should have her hearing men’s thoughts by the 20-minute mark, but it’s 30 minutes before we get there. Once the power wears off, there’s another 30 minutes for her to sort out her love life and career and whatnot. It’s a 90-minute movie trapped in a 117-minute movie’s body, and it squanders a chance to mine the abundant comedy to be found in men’s inner monologues.
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C+ (1 hr., 57 min.; )