I laughed enough during the early parts of Think Like a Man, but it runs out of steam and I sat through the last third watching scenes I already knew were coming, almost like a chore. It’s a shame too because while the early portion certainly didn’t make me think I was in for an all-timer, it didn’t warn me of how disappointed I would feel immediately afterward.
The movie tells the story of a group of guys and the women they misuse. There’s the dreamer Dominic (Michael Ealy) who isn’t accomplished enough for the ambitious COO Lauren (Taraji P. Henson). There’s the commitment-shy Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) who’s trying the patience of his girlfriend of nine years, Kristen (Gabrielle Union). There’s the womanizing Zeke (Romany Malco) who is trying to seduce Mya (Meagan Good) who, after giving it up too early and too often for too long, has vowed to wait. We have Michael (Terrence Jenkins) who’s a mama’s boy and Candace (Regina Hall) who wants a committed man to help her raise her son. There’s the firecracker Cedric (Kevin Hart) who’s going through a divorce and loving it and there’s Bennett (Gary Owen) who’s happily married and therefore uninteresting in the movie. The guys feel like they have it pretty good and the women complain to themselves but seem to accept that this is how it goes until they gain a secret weapon.
Think Like a Man is based on a self-help book by Steve Harvey titled Act Like a Lady…Think Like a Man and the movie is basically a commercial for the book. Harvey appears as himself on talk shows in the movie promoting the book and reads his own words directly to the camera. The book provides the women with the means of getting what they want out of their men. It’s referred to often as a playbook to even the playing field in a man’s world, a tell-all that exposes men in all their immature selfishness and shows the ladies what to do about it. I don’t mind that the movie is a vehicle for the promotion of the book. I’ve seen enough product placement in movies; I’m just pleased it’s pushing a product that requires people to read. Dozens of copies of the book are shown in the movie, being purchased, being read, being traded among women, all hardbacks. All these powerful, tech-savvy women, and no one reads on a Kindle. Swing and a miss, Amazon.
Forget for a second that these are four of the most beautiful women in the world; we’re talking about who you think wouldn’t need a book to avoid settling for the likes of Turtle from Entourage, but it seems incredible that these women were able to make it into their thirties without realizing that men love sex and dislike commitment. Yet, they find the book to be a godsend and follow its rules to gain the upper hand. And by upper hand I mean they make their boyfriends apply to jobs and be faithful and be honest, things that are universally accepted as positive changes. The first third of the movie establishes the guys and generates some laughs from their constant ribbing of each other. Kevin Hart in particular is very funny as a fast-talking overconfident provocateur. He’s given less to do as the story goes on (and that’s correct as he’s mainly the jester), but his comic energy and interest aren’t replaced.
The scenes of the early parts of the various relationships are nicely done as well. In fact, the screenplay is competently constructed by Keith Merryman and David Newman and the editing is fast paced and able to juggle the various relationships. Romantic comedies are often excuses to show men forced to grow up and that does happen here, but the script is judicious enough to spread the growing around. “There is no perfect man,” Steve Harvey says directly to us. “You have to compromise somewhere.” The same applies to the women in the movie. The problem is once all that is set up, it becomes a slow and often painful trudge to the inevitable. The inventiveness goes out and the movie seems compelled to hit the same tired notes. The problem is with the set-up itself, which is that the women use the book as a guide to train their men, which is dishonest, and then the men find the book and use the strategies against the ladies, more dishonesty. Nobody really learns anything so we have to go through a series of painful resolutions to relationships based on deceit.
People don’t act as if we’ve been trained to believe they would, so we lose interest. It’s like Merryman and Newman started writing with excitement, became aware of the exact places it was going but didn’t want to go back, and so they joylessly finished the story as if on assignment. The mortal sin for romantic comedies is inventing a reason to keep two people apart just to add drama and Think Like a Man does this for at least two of its relationships. In fact, the only couple that I felt myself rooting for was the long-term partners of Ferrara and Union, who are able to make it through the screenplay with their romantic sweetness intact. A look at the cast list should tell you that the performances are fine, and Think Like a Man starts well, but it ends like a formula.