'Think Like a Man': Good Advice, Decent Movie
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
As two-hour-long book trailers go, "Think Like a Man" isn't a terrible movie. Or maybe I've got that backward. How about, as movies go, "Think Like a Man" isn't a bad two-hour book trailer. No, that isn't it either.
Long story short: Onetime "Original Kings of Comedy" member and current "Family Feud" host Steve Harvey wrote an advice book aimed at members of the fairer sex within the African-American community (although, as I am sure he would be the first to point out, its larger implications and applications are race-neutral), titled "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man." As you might glean from its title, the advice therein aims to help the marriage-minded woman achieve her goal by counter-strategizing against her desired potential mate. Apparently, the book sold relatively well, as it inspired an ensemble romantic comedy whose scenarios are inspired by the archetypes and situations discussed in the book.
Hence, we are treated to the tale of the "mama's boy" and the single mom; the tale of the "player" versus the onetime ill-used hookup who is now heeding Harvey's advice by adopting a 90-day-rule (this scenario has much talk of "sealing up" a "cookie jar," oy); the tale of the "dreamer" who ... well, I don't know that I have to go on. Essentially, you have four male types matched against four female countertypes, and you also have some peripheral guys and gals who act as comic foils or plot points or what have you. Over a dozen characters to put through paces, so, you know, you can kinda see how it would spin out to two hours.
Of course, the paces are the inevitable ones that couples get put through in all such rom-coms here, except the permutations are specifically Harvey-mandated. All the female characters get their tips from Harvey's book, which for the first hour and 20 or so is mentioned every five minutes or so, complete with extrapolations from the author himself; then, in a weird (or maybe just weird-ish) twist, the fellas find the book and use it to plan their, um, resistance. Sun Tzu is invoked, which may make some audience members think this is adapted from two books. Maybe it is.
The weirder thing is, the movie isn't nearly as bad as I'm making it sound. (Does it sound bad?) As cheesy and trite as it comes off from its general outline, the particular pleasures it offers are enjoyable and reasonably consistent.
First off, the cast, both male and female is terrifically appealing, and this male found both Gabrielle Union and Meagan Good especially outstanding ... but no, really, the players are all good, and Kevin Hart, as Cedric, is an absolute scream as one of the side characters, a nearly divorced guy who doth protest too much in relishing his new freedom and encouraging his buddies to "fly" with him. (Did I say "all" good? Sorry, there's the odious Chris Brown in a small and ostensibly comic role as a clueless but harmless bad boy; he doesn't bring the portrayal off, at all.) The portrayals of male bonding, interracial relationships and trash talk between both sexes is refreshingly frank and straightforward, and the dialogue (the script is by David A. Newman and Keith Merryman, who also wrote the recent "Friends With Benefits") is replete with zingers. Said zingers aren't always Wildean or anything, but they work.
On the whole, this is a lot smarter and funnier than the considerably paler multi-character-spanning romantic comedy stinkers Garry Marshall has been churning out lately (c.f. "Valentine's Day" and "New Year's Eve"). This is, of course, a distinction that's only relevant if you're looking for a better version of a Garry Marshall movie. OK, "Think Like a Man" is better than that, too.
(Granted, this reviewer is probably not in the key demo for a film like this, African-American or Caucasian division. For instance, there was one scene in which a girlfriend advised the gorgeous COO played by Taraji P. Henson that she needed to "quit chasing the ghosts of James Merrill," referring to a former boyfriend [who does indeed crop up later on in the form of Morris Chestnut]; I laughed at that bit, because I thought it was funny that Henson's character would be chasing after the author of "The Changing Light at Sandover," who was gay anyway. Oh, the hilarity!)
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.