Were you aware that comedian and radio personality Steve Harvey had written a self-help book for women entitled “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man”? By the end of the new movie “Think Like a Man,” you will have no doubt in your mind that Steve Harvey has written a book entitled “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”
Mainly because the characters in the movie keep talking about Steve Harvey and his book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” And even Steve Harvey pops up periodically to discuss his book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”
If you don’t mind enduring the film’s infomercial aspects, “Think Like a Man” winds up being an entertaining romantic comedy covering the very familiar ground of the differences between men and women, and the strategies that women must employ to get men to put that ring on their finger. Once Harvey himself disappears about halfway through, the movie has an easier time finding its own voice.
Comedian Kevin Hart plays a man in the throes of a divorce, and he narrates the romantic misadventures of his closest friends. “Think Like a Man” reveals its willingness to treat its characters as archetypes early on — Hart’s character introduces us to “The Dreamer,” “The Momma’s Boy,” et. al., which makes it easy never to learn the names of any of the people onscreen. (Well, except for Meagan Good’s Mya, but only because of a running gag in which a former one-night-stand keeps running into her and calling her “Michelle” and a bunch of other incorrect names that being with “M.”)
Realtor Kristen (Gabrielle Union) has lived with man-child Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) since college but can’t get him to propose. Single mom Candace (Regina Hall) falls for Michael (Terrence J), but he hasn’t quite cut the umbilical cord to his own overbearing mother (Jenifer Lewis). High-powered businesswoman Lauren (Taraji P. Henson) wants a man who won’t be intimidated by her swimming-with-the-sharks lifestyle, so would-be chef Dominic (Michael Ealy) has to pretend to be as rich and powerful as she is, even though he’s broke and between gigs. And Mya wants a man who will stick around, so she forces notorious player Zeke (Romany Malco) to wait 90 dates before he gets what she (and all of the film’s other women) refer to as “the cookie.”
All of these women turn to, you guessed it, Steve Harvey’s “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” for advice, which works up to the point when the men figure out what they’re up to and start reading the book themselves. Will the women figure out that the men are creating fake versions of themselves to please their ladies? Or will the men discover that they actually want to live up to their Harvey-inspired phony personae?
Like the recent “He’s Just Not That Into You” — another adaptation of a non-fiction dating guide, albeit one where the authors were happy to remain off-screen — this is a movie that’s always about what it’s about. There’s not a single conversation that isn’t about the mechanics of dating, or some other issue of conflict between the genders, but this cast is so uniformly engaging and charismatic that they make the whole thing work.
Even saddled with an adaptation that’s constantly calling attention to the source material, screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman (who previously collaborated on “Friends with Benefits”) keep the dialogue sprightly and the relationships interesting. It’s not uncommon for movies to cram one white girl or one black guy into a group of friends for diversity’s sake, but this is one of a very few movies where a mixed-race collection of pals feels totally organic.
Director Tim Story made a wise choice in returning to comedy (“Barbershop” was always a much better showcase for his talents than the clanging “Fantastic Four” movies), and he and cinematographer Larry Blanford give Los Angeles a dewy, old-movie glow.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of “Think Like a Man” is that it gives criminally underused actresses like Union, Good and Henson the chance to star in a movie that appreciates their talents. So often wasted in small roles, these three get to flirt, crack wise and be the focus of attention. It’s great that someone besides Tyler Perry (whose movies are the butt of several jokes here) is giving black actresses the showcase they deserve.