Pity the nonfiction author -- while plenty of novels that are only marginally successful get optioned for film adaptations, you can write a runaway best-seller that provides practical advice on love, gardening, or auto repair, and wait until doomsday before anyone buys the movie rights. Well, nonfiction writers, you have a new hero: comedian Steve Harvey. In 2009, Harvey published the book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, in which he offered women strategic relationship advice on how to deal with the men in their lives, and after the book became a huge success, he figured out a way to bring it to the big screen. Think Like a Man is a romantic comedy about what happens to a group of women who read Harvey’s book and take his suggestions to heart, causing a number of men to struggle to regain the upper hand in the battle of the sexes after one of their own has revealed their secret playbook to the world.
The movie focuses on six friends who regularly get together to play basketball, most of whom have issues with relationships. Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) is a geeky pothead and comic-book obsessive whose career is stuck in neutral and who won’t pop the question to his girlfriend of nine years. Zeke (Romany Malco) is a former musician-turned-businessman who is great at picking up the ladies but can’t commit to a long-term relationship. Michael (Terrence J) is good looking and charming, but his mother still has him wrapped around her finger and doesn’t want to let him go. Dominic (Michael Ealy) keeps changing career goals, and while he’s an excellent chef, he hasn’t found a way to make it pay. And short, motormouthed Cedric (Kevin Hart) is in the midst of a divorce and can’t wait to be free of his wife. Nerdy but well-meaning Bennett (Gary Owen) is the only one in a functioning relationship, and he gets a lot of grief from his buddies for his happy marriage.
As the guys are on the prowl, the women of this story have all discovered Steve Harvey’s Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (in the movie, the tome is so successful every bookstore in Los Angeles has been sold out for weeks, a prospect Harvey and his publisher would doubtless have enjoyed). Using Harvey’s insight into the male psyche and how women can use it to get the relationship they want, Kristen (Gabrielle Union) tries to get Jeremy to clean up his act and propose. Mya (Meagan Good) is tired of players and tests Zeke’s mettle by following Harvey’s advice and taking sex off the table for 90 days. Candace (Regina Hall) is a single mom who wants Michael to put her first in his life for a change and turns to the book for help. And Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) is a successful business executive who doesn’t want a man who isn’t up to her standards, and isn’t happy when she falls for Dominic only to find he hasn’t made much of his life yet.
Think Like a Man is in many ways a simple story of four couples who take a comically long time to figure out they’re in love, all made complicated by the desire of everyone involved to “win” in the relationship. Steve Harvey periodically pops up as himself, delivering the sage advice he put in his book (no one, of course, questions the wisdom of a man who is currently on his third marriage), and the men and women have wildly different interpretations of Harvey and his book (the gals think he’s revealing the secrets of the universe, while the guys believe he’s a traitor). Think Like a Man is more than a bit predictable in the way the couples do and don’t get along at various points in the story, and screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman lift some recognizable bits from other films along the way to pad out the plot. But if the material is rather stale, the cast know what to do with it, and director Tim Story has the smarts to give them the room to work. Kevin Hart overplays as loudmouthed Cedric, but Romany Malco shows a knack for both comedy and romance, and Terrence J and Michael Ealy make their characters likable despite their flaws. Meagan Good is engaging and sexy as Mya, Gabrielle Union is charming as a girl geek succumbing to the call of maturity, and Taraji P. Henson does a solid job of balancing the cool and loving sides of her character’s personality. At a bit over two hours, Think Like a Man could use some trimming, and a more polished script wouldn’t have hurt, but the cast carry the day and overall this is a cut above most romantic comedies in recent memory. And if Steve Harvey’s book can become a major motion picture, perhaps there’s still hope that John Muir’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive will come to the big screen after all. leave a comment --Mark Deming