Movie Review: Taraji tears it up figuring out “What Men Want”

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Whatever Taraji P. Henson is “on” in “What Men Want,” sign me up for a bottle of that.

Her amped up, go-for-broke, lowdown, dirty and broad performance in this distaff spin on the Mel Gibson “I can hear the thoughts of the opposite sex” hit, “What Women Want,” has two things you want in a screen comedy — desperation and laughs.

It’s so long that it’s no surprise they can’t make an end of it and let the film exit gracefully. “Men Want” reaches for every low-hanging-fruit joke it can grasp. But this Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) farce tries to make Henson a one-woman “Girls’ Trip,” and doesn’t miss that lowdown and raunchy mark by far.

Henson plays Ali Davis, almost the only female agent in Atlanta’s high-powered Summit World Management agency, a sharp-tongued, sharp-elbowed workaholic who handles many of the world’s greatest female athletes.

She’s “crushing it” to such a degree that she and her supportive but long-suffering assistant (Josh Brener, fun) are SURE she’s about to make partner. When the boss (Brian Bosworth, perfect) doesn’t pitch that promotion her way, she blows a fuse. He dismisses her with A) “You don’t connect with men” and B) “Stay in your lane.”

Our Ali’s a “ball-buster” who has an “all about you” rep with her colleagues. She’s a tigress when she beds a handsome bartender (Aldis Hodge), and savagely selfish. There’s something she’s not “getting.”

Stereotypical gay assistant Brandon has to send her to a cousin’s bachelorette party to cool off. And the psychic the ladies hire as entertainment has a hand in changing Ali’s life.

Singer/actress Erykah Badu threatens to steal the movie as “Sister,” a flake of the first order, server of “Haitian tea” that makes Ali wild. Was it spiked?

“I’m 19 years sober,” Sister harrumphs. “If you don’t count the weed, the peyote and the crack.”

As potent as the tea is, it still takes a blow to the head to make Ali start hearing men’s inner thoughts.

From “I gotta get my prostate checked” and “This whole wearing ladies’ underwear thing” on the street, to “Pretend I’m working, pretend I’m working, pretend I’m working” from colleagues, girlfriend has ALL access. Now how might that be helpful is she’s trying to sign the hottest NBA prospect out there, winning over his crazy, changed-his-last-name-to-“Dolla” dad (Tracy Morgan)?

It’s a cluttered, messy movie, stooping to pander, here and there — in between the fart jokes, Pete Davidson (gay office drone) appearances and F-bombs.

But there’s a breezy, improvised best-joke-on-the-set wins feel to a lot of the zingers. Maybe Wendi McClendon-Covey didn’t come up with the not-quite-Born Again party girl Olivia character on her own, but her one-liners sound like the work of an improv vet, and co-star of “The Goldbergs.”

“Before I started following The Lord, I followed 2 Live Crew on tour!”

A men–only poker game Ali crashes features Shaq, Grant Hill and NBA owner Mark Cuban, who gives us the rich guy’s take on the 99 percent.

“Gotta stop playing poker with poor people!”

No, it’s not on a par with “Bridesmaids” or “Girls’ Trip.” The sentimental stuff, the piercing “insights” Ali picks up about men, are instantly forgettable.

But Henson plays the hell out of this part, no subtlety allowed. And the over-supply of one-liners and an abundance of silly supporting players (Jason Jones of TV’s “The Detour,” Richard “Shaft” Roundtree as Ali’s aged jock dad) ensure that the laughs keep coming, even if “What Men Want” outstays its welcome.

2half-star6

(Did Paramount Hamstring “What Men Want” before the Box Office Race Started?)

MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Erykah Badu, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McClendon-Covey, Brian Bosworth

Credits: Directed by Adam Shankman, script by Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory. A Paramount Players/BET release.

Running time: 1:57

 

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