In “What Men Want,” Taraji P. Henson gains the ability to hear men’s unspoken thoughts after she (1) accidentally drinks drug-laced tea; (2) dances to 2 Live Crew’s “Hoochie Mama” during a friend’s bachelorette party; (3) is knocked over by an inflatable penis; and (4) is slammed into a nightclub stage.
Nothing about this movie is subtle.
That’s almost a good thing. Henson’s lively spirit carries “What Men Want,” an otherwise so-so gender-flipped remake of the 2000 romantic comedy starring Mel Gibson. Replacing Gibson’s chauvinistic adman — a guy mystified by the female mind — Henson stars as Ali Davis, a self-absorbed sports agent who will stop at nothing to sign an NBA draft pick after she is passed over for promotion at her firm. Ali’s main issue, both at her testosterone-fueled office and in her personal life, is that she seems unable to form meaningful connections with the opposite sex.
After diagnosing Ali’s man problem, an over-the-top psychic (Erykah Badu, dialed all the way to 11) gives Ali the psychotropic tea. Later, she convinces her panicked customer to use her newfound ability to hear men’s thoughts to her advantage. What better way to court her next client, and his father, than to eavesdrop on them thinking?
Director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) plays to Henson’s strengths, balancing R-rated humor with physical comedy. (There’s an especially funny callback to the original film, in which Ali uses her powers to have better sex.) But the director loses points for burdening the movie with a bucket of subplots, few of which receive enough attention to justify their existence.
Luckily, we get to see a lot of Brandon (Josh Brener), Ali’s submissive assistant and an aspiring sports agent. Brandon is the only other person she confides in about her abilities. Brener and Henson have great chemistry, especially following the nightclub incident: “I thought black people stopped drinking tea after ‘Get Out,’ ” Brandon wisecracks. But there’s too much of this. In one scene, there are references to sexual harassment, dating apps and how to pronounce “Okurrr,” a slang term popularized by rapper Cardi B. The dialogue is too often on the nose: “From now on,” Ali says, “my self-worth is not going to come from a man’s approval.”
“What Men Want” avoids some gender-flipping pitfalls, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.