[20 June 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Michael Ealy. Meagan Good. Terrence J. Taraji P. Henson. Romany Malco. Gabrielle Union. La La Anthony. Kevin Hart. These are quality names. These are very talented actors. These are performers who should be superstars, recognizable marquee faces not basic bit players.
Do you want to know how good they are? Do you want to see how ability trumps creative artifice? Look no further than this week’s proposed comedy of couples errors, Think Like a Man Too. Gone are the feel-fairly-good sentiments of Steve Harvey and his oddly popular self help book. In its place is a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” Hangover-lite approach which, while not new, is enlivened by a cast capable of turning bat guano into Batman.
The story is simple enough. Momma’s boy Michael (J) is finally getting married to Candace (Hall). Having accidentally picked his buddy Cedric (Hart) as his best man, the whole gang is getting together to celebrate the nuptials—and the pre-wedding partying—in Las Vegas. This includes Dominic (Ealy) and Lauren (Henson), who are about to face a career-related crisis in their relationship. Zeke (Malco) and Maya (Good) are also present, with him ready to commit and her suspicious of his previous “playa” ways.
Newly married Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) feels pressured by Kristen’s (Union) desire to have a baby while Tish (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Bennett (Gary Owen) want time away from the house and kids. Naturally, nothing goes as planned, with an overpriced suite as Caesar’s Palace and an overnight stay in jail the least of their problems.
While it mucks up the third act with the kind of middling melodramatics that undermine most of Tyler Perry’s output, the first two sections of Think Like a Man Too abandon the book the original was based on for a collection of comic set-ups and mostly funny pay-offs. Clearly a showcase for Hart (who went from someone to superstar over the course of this fledgling franchise’s birth) there are sequences were are pint-size comic does little except run his motor mouth and gesticulate wildly for the viewer.
The results are often more ridiculous than rib-tickling, but director Tim Story, whose worked with Hart three times now, understands the demo. They aren’t about sophistication. They want sentiment and old school slapstick, and the film delivers both.
Yet this is not just a one man show. No matter how hard it tries to be a vehicle for Hart’s current celebrity status, the rest of the cast command our attention in more subtle, significant ways. For example, during a bachelorette party in a swanky club, the DJ throws on the Bel Biv Devoe classic from the early ‘90s, “Poison”, and suddenly we are sitting through a spoof of the era’s music videos featuring our fetching female leads—and these ladies can really throw down. Both embracing and deconstructing the era’s exploitation of women, it’s one of the most memorable musical sequences in a long while.
Similarly, plot contrivances find everyone congregating at an amateur night showcase in a swanky Sin City strip club. While the men prepare to put on a display, the women get restless. A fight ensues, allowing each performer an opportunity to show some physical comedy panache.
That’s the (limited) magic of Think Like a Man Too. Instead of merely allowing Hart to hijack the entire affair (the film could have easily revolved around his on-again, off-again partnership with a Taming of the Shrew style ex, played by Wendy Williams) , it gives everyone a chance to shine. Even during the aforementioned finalé when all the comedy turns to contrivance, we buy into the bunk because the actors have earned our investment.
Take the scene where Ealy and Henson hash out their future plans. He’s apprehensive and vulnerable. She responds with hurt and heart. It’s all straight out of a traditional sudser, but both performers have established their characters and have gotten us to care. The same goes with Malco and Good, though the rest of the cast don’t get such meaty material.
In fact, it’s safe to say that Think Like a Man Too is one of the few films were onscreen persona triumphs over tired screenplay sameness. We’ve seen dudes party poolside before, but the actors (not their actions) make it work. Similarly, when the gals go ga-ga over some muscled man meat, they do so with crafty intelligence, not uncontrolled libido.
Of course, during many of the movie’s more chaotic sequences, you can’t help but sit and stare at the talent on hand and not think “they all deserve better.” Think Like a Man Too may be enjoyable, but it’s also cheap, lazy, and prone to pandering. Again, thanks to the casting department, all of these major moviemaking flaws can be easily overcome by the abilities of the actors and their outright likeability.
None of this will matter to the intended audience, of course. There’s a sly suggestion throughout Think Like a Man Too that only a specific kind of viewer will “get” what’s going on here. Just like Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum preach to a specific segment of the population, Story and his actors are exploring a previously underserved dynamic which has cried out for quality entertainment. This movie might not reflect the realities of their lives, but for people of color, something like Think Like a Man Too is far more inclusive than a Neighbors or a Blended.
Think Like a Man Too tries to take everyone into consideration while concentrating on the concerns and worries of those often left out of the mainstream mix. It’s refreshing, and at the same time, concerning. It would be nice to think that all movies manage to take all potential viewers into consideration. Like those leaving them out, Think Like a Man Too makes a similar, insular, decision.
Someday, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Terrence J, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, La La Anthony, and Kevin Hart will get material measured out against their obvious skills. Think Like a Man Too may be nothing more than a sketchbook for their specialness, but while it lasts, it’s a legitimate comedy contender.