Taraji P. Henson is a blast as Ali in the breezy screwball comedy What Men Want, a quasi-remake of the 2000 Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want. As Ali, a female sports agent in a male-dominated profession who is so laser-focused on overcoming her colleagues’ sexism and becoming partner that it leads her to ignore her friends; browbeat her loyal assistant, Brandon (Silicon Valley’s John Brener); and use her new man, single dad Will (Aldis Hodge), and his young son to further her campaign to sign basketball phenom Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). Add to the mix a sudden ability to read men’s minds—thanks to an accident and some sips of a psychic’s (Erykah Badu) funky tea—and the stage is set for laughs, which the movie mostly delivers.
“Mostly.” Clocking it at one hour, 57 minutes, What Men Wantis one of those movies that would have benefited with some judicious pruning. Most of the fat is on the front end. Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray) and a team of screenwriters take their time setting up Ali’s situation, which makes for a flaccid initial half hour until the plot fully kicks in.
Luckily, the film’s virtues far outweigh its faults. Henson is a pure delight, throwing herself with abandon into the movie’s physical comedy and delivering her tart dialogue with aplomb. Brener is equally hilarious in a lower key as the long-suffering Brandon and so is Tracy Morgan as Jamal’s controlling, LaVar Ball-like father, while Hodge is pure sexy charm. Badu has some wonderfully daffy moments (including during the end credits) as the woman who sets the whole plot in motion. And simmering beneath the laughs is a pointed critique of the work environment that the real Alis of the world face when they are forced to compete on an uneven playing field that has been rigged against them. –Pam Grady