If you walk into What Men Want expecting a deep dive into the male id and how that kind of insight would drive a woman mad then expect to leave disappointed.
Adam Shankman’s YouTube comments-baiting comedy is very heavy on the fantasy, light on anatomising contemporary gender politics. Being a remake of old Mel Gibson film is automatically a boon for any film, but it certainly helps that this particular feature, borne of that provocative title, is actually rather fun.
What Men Want rejigs Nancy Meyer’s original so that our new leading mind-reader is Ali Davis (Taraji P Henson), a sports agent who’s exceptionally good at her job but remains perpetually hamstrung by her all-male workplace’s intact glass ceiling.
When she’s passed over for a promotion she rightly deserves, Ali finds herself entertaining the divinations of a shaman (Erykah Badu gussied up in full New Age hippie garb) and, one inflatable penis-induced bump to the head later, she wakes up to find she can hear every man’s thought.
Taraji P Henson is typically the glue that holds any film together, but she’s absolutely What Men Want’s greatest trump card. Henson is a bullet train of confidence, tearing through this material with her exceptional gift for comedy and charisma aplenty. She spins about as many plates as one actor can when they’re the strongest part of a movie and more often than not Henson elicits laughs simply through her line delivery or expressive eyebrows.
What Men Want has its moments – there’s a great rapport developed between Ali and her assistant (Josh Brener), and a hilarious conclusion to Ali’s eyes-only flirtation with her buff neighbour (Kellan Lutz) – but in terms of actual jokes, it’s mostly hit or miss.
The film falls flat when it relies on easy targets like Ali being bombarded with men’s thoughts about farts or cheese or an earworm in the form of Cotton-Eyed Joe, and there’s an uncomfortable recurring gag where Ali (hilariously) discovers one of her colleagues is closeted.
Your tolerance of What Men Want will largely hinge on your ability to watch Taraji P Henson beating arrogant men at their own game for 120 minutes. It does follow the Judd Apatow criteria of needing to be two hours long for absolutely no reason so certainly outstays its welcome towards the end, but Henson holds your attention for the majority of the time.
There’s an uncomplicated breeziness to What Men Want that will likely see it succeed as prime date-night fodder. Taraji P Henson is the sole reason why you would be forgiven for thinking that this film actually has more than surface-level substance because, in reality, it doesn’t – but it’s almost suspicious how easy it is to switch off your brain here.