You sometimes get hints in “What Men Want” of the timely gender-in-the-workplace satire it could have been, but it doesn’t really want to be that movie. Instead, what we have here is mostly a straight-up, mildly raunchy rom-com. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
Once upon a time, back in 2000, Mel Gibson was a romantic-comedy star, headlining the Nancy Meyers movie “What Women Want” alongside Helen Hunt. In it, he played a sexist jerk who, after an accident involving a bathtub and a hair dryer, finds out that he can hear the thoughts of the women around him — discovering, to his chagrin, that a lot of them don’t like him. (Because he’s a sexist jerk.) Screech ahead 19 years and here we have “What Men Want,” a gender-flipped remake directed by Adam Shankman (“Hairspray”) and starring Taraji P. Henson as Ali, a sports agent trying to get ahead at her male-dominated firm.
After an encounter with a psychic and a bump on the head, Ali hears the inner thoughts of the men around her, from her hardworking and unappreciated assistant (Josh Brener) to her handsome new love interest Will (Aldis Hodge) to her colleagues to random gentlemen passing by. (Some of my favorites of the stray thoughts she overhears: “What is the name of that cheese that I like?”; “I look good in this hat!”; “Pretend I’m working”; and “Maybe it’s too late to become a marine biologist.” It’s also pretty funny to hear how every man in this movie mentally reacts to the word “skybox.”) And while Ali for a while is able to use her newfound power to help her overcome sexism at work (learning, for example, the place and date of a secret high-powered men’s poker game), she also discovers that she’s sometimes a bit of a jerk herself.
You sometimes get hints in “What Men Want” of the timely gender-in-the-workplace satire it could have been, but it doesn’t really want to be that movie. Instead, what we have here is mostly a straight-up, mildly raunchy rom-com, where everyone learns lessons and gets a happy ending. But Shankman gives it all an agreeable bounce, and Henson (better known for dramatic roles, in “Hidden Figures,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and TV’s “Empire”) zestfully dives into the comedy. In her chic business outfits and sky-high heels, she marches through the movie like a screwball heroine; shrieking (a scene in the car, with Brener, is a scream in every sense), side-eyeing and shining. Mel who?
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★★★ “What Men Want,” with Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Josh Brener, Tracy Morgan, Richard Roundtree, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones. Directed by Adam Shankman, from a screenplay by Tina Gordon, Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory. 117 minutes. Rated R for language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material. Opens Feb. 8 at multiple theaters.