Think Like a Man is a romantic ensemble comedy — an excessively populated and chatty two-hour one — spun from comedian and syndicated radio host Steve Harvey's 2009 self-help relationship bestseller Act Like a Lady Think Like a Man. The book is sort of a first-person spin on Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which was published 20 years ago this month and remains a popular guide for improved interplanetary communication.
The flick feels less like a self-help guide than it does an extended infomercial; in addition to frequent product placement, there are "reading" scenes (pink highlighters are a girl's best friend when she's trying to land a man) and occasional excerpt recitations from the author himself, directly addressing the camera but pictured on a flat-screen monitor with no external context.
The fact that the movie adaptation uses just the latter half of Harvey's book title is your first clue to its slant. It centres around a fraternity of six friends — each designated in the intro as a particular "type" (as per Harvey's book) — who regularly meet to play basketball, drink and talk about women. Four of them discover that the women they are involved with (who are also "types") are applying Harvey's wisdom to the relationship dynamic, so the men study up and turn the game to the home-team advantage for what amounts to a temporary fix.
While using the book as a plot catalyst is certainly not a bad approach to constructing a fictional story from the material, the movie is bogged down from the get-go with too many bits of business and a very lengthy setup. The many characters are introduced more than once and the story has to show us the initiation of three relationships before the women even start reading the book.
Considering what passes for romantic comedy these days, any one of the four intertwined and equally weighted stories could easily have been the focus of a movie. Kudos to director Tim Story – who wrangled the boys in Barbershop and the spandex set in two Fantastic Four movies – for not allowing the strained construction to become too convoluted and for keeping the movie moving at a brisk pace, despite its overlong running time.
Each relationship has its game scenario, the solid cast valiantly making the best of thin roles. "The player" Zeke (Romany Malco), whose successful modus operandus is counterintuitive pick-up lines that lead to casual hook-ups, meets his match in Mya (Meagan Good), who applies Harvey's 90-day rule. "Mama's boy" Michael (Terrence J) becomes smitten with single mom Candace (Regina Hall) but can't decide who is the top lady in his life. Jeremy (Jerry Ferrera) has been living nine years with college girlfriend Kristen (Gabrielle Union), who signals her need for commitment by packing up his geek fan-boy paraphernalia and redecorating the apartment.
The romantic pair with the most performance heat is "dreamer" Dominic (Michael Ealy), an aspiring chef who parks cars for a living, and Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a business executive with impossibly high standards for a life companion. The talented Henson, whose gutsy but fragile character in TV's Person of Interest is the reason I tune in every week, manages to rise above her hackneyed character.
Chewing the scenery at every opportunity is comedian Kevin Hart, delivering an over-the-top stream-of-consciousness performance as the about-to-be-divorced Cedric who eventually has a change of heart. He also provides the voice-over narration — as if the non-stop dialogue wasn't enough.
But it's comedian Gary Owen, as the married Bennett, who provides the movie's "blink and you'll miss it" turning point: When the guys razz him for being hen-pecked (he has to go home and cook dinner) he gives a knowing smile and explains that he likes being at home with his family.
In Think Like a Man, exploring what's between the covers isn't nearly as much fun as it sounds.
Think Like a Man
- Directed by Tim Story
- Written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman
- Starring Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence J, Jenifer Lewis, Romany Malco, Gary Owen and Gabrielle Union
- Classification: PG
Special to The Globe and Mail