Mel Gibson

What Men Want

04/03/19

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.

3.3 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Hacksaw Ridge

15/01/17

Former megastar Mel Gibson has been persona non grata around Hollywood for quite some time, but Hacksaw Ridge looks like the film that will restore his reputation. Rightfully so, I think, because no matter what he’s done in his private life, he remains a gifted film maker. This assured war movie tells the true story of Private David Doss, a God-fearing young man from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, who after nearly killing his brother in a youthful fight takes an oath never to pick up a weapon ever again. Which is all fine and dandy until the days following Pearl Harbour, when his brother and most of the other young men around the town, join the army, and Doss decides that he really can’t stay at home and let them take all the punishment; so after much consideration, he too enlists – which, as you might imagine causes all manner of problems. His intention to be a medic but of course, things don’t go quite as smoothly as planned…

Having just given us a saintly Jesuit in Martin Scorcese’s Silence, Andrew Garfield offers us another take on the idea, this time as that rarest of creatures, the weaponless war hero. The conflict he is sent to is the American invasion of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest conflicts. We’re often told that war is hell and Gibson’s re-enactment of the events certainly look the part – indeed this must qualify as one of the most visceral movie battles ever. Much of the footage here makes Saving Private Ryan look like a pleasant day at the seaside and those who cannot relish bloodshed would be well advised to give this one a miss. Heads, limbs and brains are propelled around the screen with gusto and, if there’s a criticism of the film, it’s simply that there may be just a little too much of it. I’m not advocating more tasteful bloodshed, you understand, but the sheer volume of the slaughter eventually begins to inure you to the film’s message – that war is a terrible thing and we need to stop sending people off to fight them.

Garfield is terrific though and there’s a pleasing turn from Teresa Palmer as the young nurse he woos in earlier, gentler scenes. Hugo Weaving plays Doss’s alcoholic father, turned bitter by the loss of his best friends in the First World War and watch out for Vince Vaughan, taking a break from his usual slapstick comedy schizzle to give us  a nicely restrained variation on the ‘tough Sergeant with a heart of gold’ – a cinematic line that goes all the way back to John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima and which Gibson himself made a decent fist of in We Were Soldiers.

Towards the end, we start to suspect that Gibson is over-egging Doss’s sanctity a little too much; but a post credits interview with the (late) great man himself seems to confirm that he really was the quiet, unassuming hero that the film makes him out to be.

Harrowing stuff, not for the faint-hearted.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney