Some readers may remember a film from the year 2000, entitled What Women Want. It starred (the yet to be disgraced) Mel Gibson, as a chauvinistic advertising executive, who, after an unfortunate accident involving a bath and an electric hair dryer, was suddenly granted the dubious gift of hearing what women thought about him. (Spoiler alert. They didn’t like him very much.)
This remake sticks pretty closely to the original story, but simply reverses the genders. The results, it must be said, are interesting – if somewhat patchy.
Ali Davis (Taraji B. Henson) works in the cutthroat world of sports management, where her modus operandi is to be every bit as arrogant, self-centred and downright unpleasant as the many competitive males who work alongside her. Her ultimate goal is to become a partner of the firm and she’s prepared to go to any lengths to secure that ambition. Indeed, she’s so repellant a character in these opening stretches that pretty soon, I’m honestly wondering if I really want to stay to the end.
However, the film takes a sizeable step up when, after suffering a concussion at a nightclub, Ali wakes up with the ability to hear the thoughts of every male she encounters. This results in some genuinely funny scenes. The sequence where she stumbles through her open-plan workplace, assailed by an onslaught of unpleasant cerebral utterances is a hoot and Henson gives these broadly comic routines everything she’s got. But it’s not all plain sailing from here.
Pretty soon, Ali comes to terms with her ‘gift’ and realises that she can turn it to her advantage. In her attempts to sign rising basketball star, Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), to her agency, she enlists the unwitting help of a recent romantic conquest, Will (Aldis Hodge), and his little boy Ben (Austin Jon Moore), who she callously passes off as her husband and son, something she entirely neglects to tell them about. When Will discovers the truth, he’s less than delighted. Ali needs to learn the error of her ways…
There’s a neat story about sexual politics bound up in all this and an overriding message that, at the end of the day, what both men and women want are fairly similar things – respect, loyalty and appreciation – but unfortunately there’s an unfocused tone to the film that prevents it from properly settling into a groove. The presence of phoney psychic, Sister (Erykah Badu), feels like a major misstep, since her caricatured persona and inane utterances are nowhere near as funny as the filmmakers seem to think they are. But to make up for it there’s also a nicely nuanced performance from Brandon Wallace as Ali’s much-put-upon PA, Josh. Old timers like me will delight in spotting that the actor playing Ali’s father is none other than Richard Roundtree, who in 1971 played Detective John Shaft. (Right on!)
This is very much a game of swings and roundabouts. Each laugh-out-loud scene we are offered (and to be fair, there are several) is deflated by others that are rather less convincing – and I must confess that, with a less assured actor than Henson in the lead role, this might not fly at all.
It by no means terrible, but it fails to fully capitalise on its considerable potential.