By Gregg Shapiro
Head injuries are no laughing matter. Just ask Eric Trump. Be that as it may, two movies opening in theaters a week apart – “What Men Want” (Paramount Players) and “Isn’t It Romantic”, make light of the results of a painful blow to the crown.
Happily single, career-driven Ali (a marvelously comedic Taraji P. Henson) is a sports agent at the excessively cis male Summit Worldwide Management, which may as well be called Straight White Males, because that’s what the sister is up against. From sexist/racist boss Nick (Brian Bosworth) to co-workers Kevin (Max Greenfield), Eddie (Chris Witaske) and Ethan (Jason Jones), the deck is stacked against her. This is confirmed when, much to the surprise of Ali and her devoted, nerdy but knowledgeable, gay assistant Brandon (Josh Brener), she is passed over for an important promotion.
Seeking solace with her trio of besties – Mari (Tamala Jones), Ciarra (Phoebe Robinson) and Olivia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) – at Mari’s bachelorette party, Ali partakes in a variety of stimulants, including an exotic tea from Haiti served up by rent-a-psychic Sister (Erykah Badu in a scene-stealing supporting actress role that has Oscar-nomination written all over it). Later, flying high at a nightclub, Ali takes a header on the dance-floor.
The next morning, she discovers that she is able to hear every thought of every man in her office. Ali is convinced that there is a connection between Sister’s brew and the new gift, which results in some of the biggest laughs in the movie. In the midst of negotiations with rising young basketball star Jamal (Shane Paul McGhie) and his insane father Joe Dolla (Tracy Morgan), Ali realizes that she can use this talent to her advantage.
It also comes in handy with hot one-night-stand Will (Aldis Hodge), in terms of pursuing a relationship. But, as we all know, some gifts are better left unwrapped. This a lesson that Ali learns the hard way when she ends up dropping the ball on the Jamal deal, causing an embarrassing scene at Mari’s wedding and using widower Will and his young son Ben (Auston Jon Moore) in the most uncool of ways. But fear not, this is a rom-com with a happy ending, and another bump on the head is the remedy.
In the capable hands of out director Adam Shankman, “What Men Want” is also one of the gayest movies of the year (so far). In addition to Ali’s assistant Brandon, there is a foul-mouthed co-worker (Pete Davidson) harboring a secret crush on Brandon. There is also a fine selection of men, shirtless or in skin-tight workout wear, to ogle. Best of all, there’s no trace of homophobe/anti-Semite Mel Gibson who starred in 2000’s “What Women Want”, the Nancy Myers rom-com on which “What Men Want” is based.
3/5 Peaches: a ripe peach