Young black woman smiling and sitting at a desk with computer with one elbow on the desk and arm up by her face in front of a window

Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) puts her new abilities to good use in What Men Want. (Photo by Jess Miglio/Paramount Players, a division of Paramount Pictures)

Someone once observed that when a film borrows a few elements from earlier works, it’s considered unoriginal, but one that borrows every element is considered “well-researched.” In that sense, What Men Want is very well-researched indeed.


Though star Taraji P. Henson is a fresh and funny talent who easily holds our attention as sports agent Ali Davis, the film around her can’t escape the narrow path laid down by previous romcoms. In particular, it seems to borrow heavily from Amy Schumer’s 2015 starring vehicle, Trainwreck.


Is it just a coincidence that the heroines of both films have fathers who taught them to be tough and independent to the extent that they avoid committed relationships? That both relax their non-commitment rules after meeting nice guys? That both eventually screw up those relationships, causing them to re-evaluate themselves? Or, finally, that both stories revolve around basketball and feature appearances by real-life players?


True, What Men Want diverges from Trainwreck on a couple of major plot points, but those could well have been borrowed from Schumer’s 2018 follow-up romcom, I Feel Pretty. Heroines of both flicks have a group of gal pals with whom they have a falling out. But first, both suffer blows to their heads that have surprising after-effects. The Schumer character hallucinates that she’s become the classic beauty she’s always admired, while Henson’s Ali realizes she’s attained the ability to read men’s minds.


This ability, of course, is inspired by yet another film: 2000’s What Women Want, in which a man gains the ability to read women’s minds after receiving an electric shock. Like her male predecessor, Ali soon realizes she can use her new ability to her advantage. Namely, she hopes it will help her get ahead as a sports agent by signing up a hot young b-ball player named Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie). Then she can finally be named a partner at the male-dominated agency where she’s long been treated as the Invisible Woman.


Director Adam Shankman makes the most of his star’s likability, as well as the chops of a strong supporting cast. It’s led by Josh Brener as Ali’s faithful assistant, Brandon; Aldis Hodge as her new love interest, Kevin; Richard Roundtree as her father, Skip; and the reliably goofy Tracy Morgan as Jamal’s controlling father, Joe. Shankman also makes full use of the flick’s “R” rating with raunchy language, kinky sex scenes and frequent drug-related humor.


It all adds up to a reasonably entertaining “date night” or “girls night out” movie if you’re not bothered by the predictable plot or occasionally preachy dialogue. And especially if you’ve never heard of Trainwreck. This flick just can’t compare with that clever concoction, especially when it comes to getting the most out of real-life jocks. (LeBron James was hilarious!)


What do men really want? This man wants to laugh. With a star as talented as Taraji P. Henson, I should have gotten my wish a lot more often.


Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)


What Men Want (rated R) opens Feb. 8 at theaters nationwide.

Will Oscar reward original thinking?


Originality isn’t a prerequisite to success, as What Men Want may well prove. But let’s hope it’s at least a prerequisite to landing a 2019 Oscar.


Of the eight films vying for Best Picture honors in the Feb. 24 ceremony, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman may be the most original thanks to its blend of comedy, drama and impassioned pleas for racial justice. I’d love to see it win, but I suspect it’s a little too partisan (i.e., anti-Trump) to take home the statue.


Also breaking new ground are The Favourite and Roma, both in terms of story and cinematography. However, the former’s acidic sense of humor may be too much for some to stomach, while the latter may be hurt by the fact that it’s also a top contender in the Foreign Language Film category.


Another original flick is Vice, the Dick Cheney biopic, but it’s also very partisan (and, in my opinion, not very good).


Of the four remaining nominees, three score low on the originality test: A Star Is Born, the fourth (and third-best) version of a familiar tale; Bohemian Rhapsody, an entertaining but generally traditional biopic about an untraditional musician; and Green Book, the latest in Hollywood’s string of feel-good takes on race relations.

That leaves Black Panther, which is vying for Best Picture after the Academy wisely dropped plans for a special blockbuster category. Superhero tales are seldom considered for the major Oscars, but Ryan Coogler’s Afrocentric creation may just be inventive enough to transcend the rule.

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