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 Atlanta 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. That includes the young basketball prospect’s helicopter dad (Tracy Morgan), whose approval will determine her success.
After diagnosing Ali’s man problem, an over-the-top psychic called Sister (Erykah Badu, dialed all the way to 11) gives Ali the psychotropic tea. Later, Sister convinces her panicked customer to use her newfound ability to hear men’s thoughts — or rather, her inability to ignore them — 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 nearly two-hour movie with a bucket of subplots, few of which receive enough attention to justify their existence.
For instance: Ali has a one-night stand with an attractive bartender, played by Aldis Hodge. (But wait, he’s still grieving the death of his wife!) Later, she tries to stop one of her three best friends from marrying a cheater. (But wait, they all secretly resent her for not spending enough time with them!)
Luckily, we get to see a lot of Brandon (Josh Brener), Ali’s submissive assistant and an aspiring sports agent. Although she generally treats him like dirt, Brandon is the only other person she confides in about her abilities. Brener and Henson have great chemistry, especially in their scenes together following the nightclub incident: “I thought black people stopped drinking tea after ‘Get Out,’ ” Brandon wisecracks (an aggressively of-the-moment indicator that this movie, co-written by Tina Gordon Chism, Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory, aspires to do more than merely rehash the Nancy Meyers original.)
But there’s too much of this. In one tiny little scene, there are references to sexual harassment, dating apps and how to pronounce “Okurrr,” a trilling slang term popularized by rapper Cardi B. The dialogue itself is too often on the nose: “From now on,” Ali proclaims, “my self-worth is not going to come from a man’s approval.”
“What Men Want” avoids some of the pitfalls of gender-flipping, given how loose its connection to “What Women Want” is. But that doesn’t mean it’s good. It would make a perfectly fine airplane movie. Or maybe save it for the bachelorette party.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong language and sexual content throughout, and some drug material. 117 minutes.