Much like the original, “What Men Want”, is a story about relationships. It’s about becoming more humane, a test of and mending of relationships, and ultimately finding love.
In the 2000 original, “What Women Want”, advertising executive Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson), is a chauvinist. He’s great at selling products to men. Following the rejigging of the advertising firm, Sloane Curtis, Nick is tasked with developing an ad campaign for feminine products and things change.
After a bathroom mishap, he suddenly can hear women’s inner thoughts. He uses the newly acquired power to his benefit at work. But along the line he falls in love. And in the end, what we have is a less chauvinistic-Marshall whose relationship with this daughter is strengthened.
Shankman and Packer retain the thematic elements of the 2000 original in “What Men Want” but flip the script and tell the story from a feminist’s standpoint. A woman in a male dominated world trying to prove that she deserves a seat at the table.
Sports agent, Alison “Ali” Davis (Taraji P. Henson), does not get a promotion because she ‘cannot connect with men’. She manages successful female athletes including Olympians but she doesn’t have NBA draft, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie) so cannot make partner.
A downcast Ali meets a shaman “Sister” – played by Erykah Badu, at her friend – Ciarra’s (Phoebe Robinson) bachelorette party. Sister gives her a tea laced with marijuana – among other things. And after banging her head while in the club, Ali begins to hear men’s inner thoughts. It’s a twist of fate.
So what would a woman do if she acquired the same power as Nick? Would she do things differently? According to Adam Shankman’s film, “What Men Want”, the answer is no. Because while Ali says that ‘men just want to get paid and laid’, she’s guilty of the same sin.
Ali is a domineering woman who goes for what she wants. Sexy bartender and widower Will (Aldis Hodge) caught her fancy and she won’t let him slip through her fingers. But on a positive note, Will and Ali’s father (Richard Roundtree – Paul Patterson in Being Mary Jane) have a lot in common. They are single dads with strong family values. Hodge and Roundtree’s portrayal of responsible dads is a breath of fresh air from the stereotypical never-do-well African-American men which we see in several movies, including the 2018 film “Acrimony” which starred Henson.
Then Ali decides to use her new found power to prove that she can play in the big league. She makes moves to sign Jamal. To get Jamal, she must impress his dad – Joe “Dolla” Barry (Tracy Morgan). She begins by winning Shaquille O’Neal and Mark Cuban in a poker game. And because Dolla ‘cannot trust a woman without a family’ she seals the deal by faking a family with Will and his adorable six year old.
Contextually, Ali has a more bonafide motive compared with Nick’s plan to unseat Darcey in “What Women Want”. Yet the original film is more likable because it sends very positive messages about the women. Unlike the original, by the time the credits roll in “What Men Want”, Ali’s colleagues have not changed much. They are just as sexist as they were at the beginning.
What truly changes is Ali’s appreciation of her assistant Brandon (Josh Brener). Brandon’s truly funny inner monologues are most entertaining. He finally braves it and challenges Ali. It pay-offs and earns him a well-deserved position as a sports agent. But that’s not all he earns. He finds love with co-worker Danny (Pete Davidson) who’s had a crush on him. Ali’s nudge to Brandon to go after Danny is gratifying to watch.
This remake would have been a good opportunity to get a male perspective. Rather, screenwriters Tina Gordon, Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck went for cheap laughs with a weak storyline. The campaign designed for Barry and the sex scenes which are played for laughs make this movie fall flat on its face.
As a result, “What Men Want”, is an unflattering remake but die-hard Henson fans who relish the slapstick comedic-style will find it entertaining.
Directed by Adam Shankman
Producer – Will Packer
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Davis, Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Josh Brener, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson,Max Greenfield, Kevin
Jason Jones, Kellan Lutz, Brian Bosworth