"This is a man's world," sings James Brown at the outset of Think Like a Man. Obviously the late Godfather of Soul never had a chance to read Steve Harvey's book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, that made it clear the hairier sex doesn't have a chance.
Harvey divulged the common sense secrets of male dogdom, the way we often think single-mindedly, act irresponsibly and lie our way out of it. Kind of like Bill Belichick stealing the New York Jets playbook, as one of the hounds here explains it. Men considered Harvey a traitor, women called him a sage, and chauvinism everywhere took a hit with each new reader.
Think Like a Man is a glossily condensed version of some of Harvey's key ideas, performed by an attractive cast with several moments of highly amusing clarity. It's a movie running about 20 minutes longer than it should but the snappy script keeps you interested, and laughing more than expected.
The battle between the sexes is fought on five fronts (a couple too many), among upwardly mobile women and the men in their lives, for whom courting is something done with a basketball. Each male is a particular type Harvey described in print: the mama's boy, the underachieving dreamer, the non-commitment sort, the happily married guy and the happier divorced one.
In the other corner are the women paired with the men with sitcom precision that's slightly insulting: the single mom, the "girl who wants the ring," the woman whose success keeps getting in the way, the compulsive one-night stand and the shrewish ex-wife. It's a credit to the performances that these characters aren't more stereotypical.
The most interesting pairing is the dreamer Dominic (Michael Ealy) and the go-getter Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), whose difference in ambition and status creates a rift only love can seal. The subplot features the widest arc of any in the movie, while Henson shines in a rare glamour role after earlier, grittier triumphs in movies like Hustle & Flow.
Each woman grabs a single Harveyism and puts it into action, such as: Don't hate the player, change the game; keep the cookies in the cookie jar until the boy grows up; don't be the "chirp-chirp girl" whose man opens her car door by remote control. Then the men discover Harvey's book and begin re-turning the tables, which is when Think Like a Man loses steam, becoming formulaic with a montage of moping and late reconciliations.
Think Like a Man is produced by St. Petersburg native Will Packer, whose low-budget, high-profit movies have made him one of Hollywood's unsung successes. I've spoken with Packer several times over the years, and a desire he always expresses is to expand the appeal of movies made with and for African-Americans — to make entertainment color-blind. Think Like a Man is his best effort yet to that end, with romantic charm and racy humor in a neatly arranged package anyone can appreciate.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.