Taraji P. Henson stars in “What Men Want,” a gender-swapped version of the Nancy Meyers 2000 romantic comedy “What Women Want.” The romantic plot of the original has been tossed aside, replaced with a story about a female sports agent who mysteriously gains the ability to read the minds of her male colleagues.
Henson is Ali Davis, a sports agent on the verge of becoming a partner at her firm. “I’m gonna break that glass ceiling,” she says. In the boardroom on the day of the announcement her boss says, “We all know who deserves this. Give it up for Summit World Wide’s newest partner,” as he lobs a football down the table at the winner. She leaps up, triumphantly grabbing the ball. “Ali,” bossman says,” that pass was actually to Eddie.” Told that she doesn’t connect well with men and to stay in her lane, she goes to see a psychic (Erykah Badu) for advice. “I can help you connect with men,” says the mystic as she offers Ali a steaming hot cup of tea that definitely contains more than Earl Grey. “Oh, that’s just jasmine tea — if you don’t count the weed, the peyote and the crack.”
The tea and a bump on the head give Ali a unique ability—she can hear the thoughts of her male colleagues. “This is not a curse,” she says after getting used to her new power. “It is a gift.” Using the insight to her advantage she races to sign the NBA’s next superstar and become partner.
“What Men Want” dispenses with the creepy undertones of the Mel Gibson version, preferring to concentrate on the vulgar and just plain stupid things Ali picks up from hearing her male co-worker’s thoughts. It’s a one-joke idea, but it’s a pretty good, if somewhat limited, joke.
Henson makes it work in a broad performance that is equal parts exaggeration alarm and amazement at her newfound powers. Remove Henson and her comedic timing from the equation and there’s not much left, save for Josh Brenner as Ali’s snarky assistant and Tracy Morgan as the talkative father of young athlete. With her, however, “What Men Want” is a fun, if sentimental, gender-bent romp.