Movie Review: ‘What Men Want’ Mines Humor, But Not Much Else, From Its Gender-Flipped Premise

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Jason Jones, Kellan Lutz, Brian Bosworth, Chris Witaske, Erykah Badu

Director: Adam Shankman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Aggressive Sex, Alpha Dog Profanity, and Bachelorette Party Drug Imbibing

Release Date: February 8, 2019

The ability to read minds is a rich comic premise. That holds true even when it is done in the service of outdated ideas about gender differences, or in service of a more enlightened view of gender differences, which perhaps demonstrates that any grand statement on this topic is quite possibly a folly. While saying “men are like this, but women are like THIS” can easily be a problematic minefield, as long as you show the distance between what characters say and what they leave unsaid, the formula for laughs is there. What Men Want does not screw that formula up, at least not completely. But does it offer anything more than raucous unintentional confessionals?

I have not seen What Women Want, but from what I know about it, it cannot be so easily pinned as too reliant on stereotypes or a deconstruction of said stereotypes. The same is true of What Men Went. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a sports agent who can match her male colleagues in alpha dog aggressiveness, but she is struggling to make partner at her agency, and it is clear that that is because of assumptions of what women can or should do in a professional setting. Frankly, she does not need to read minds to know that, as she is already a decent judge of character anyway. Ultimately, her newfound ability is little more than a parlor trick. What she really needs to be able to get over the humps in her personal and professional lives is to fully listen to what the people who truly care about her are saying, which is not the same thing as hearing their thoughts.

That is a valuable lesson, but also fairly pedestrian considering the unusual circumstances. What Men Want is not fundamentally obvious, but it does feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity, because its premise is not really essential to its conclusion. Luckily, these types of movies are often reliable for memorable side characters, and we have got some delightfully kooky ones here. In particular, Tracy Morgan more or less plays himself as the father of a top NBA prospect, spouting claims like how Abraham Lincoln was “part Eskimo” and Richard Nixon “shot and ate a panda.” And then there is Erykah Badu as a self-made psychic/weed dealer, gloriously mystical and loopy as ever.

What Men Want is Recommended If You Like: Taraji P. Henson Upgrading Average Material, Tracy Morgan Running His Mouth, Erykah Badu at her zaniest

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Head Konks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween’ is Basically an Alternate Dimension’s First ‘Goosebumps’ Movie

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CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Madison Iseman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, Ken Jeong, Jack Black

Director: Ari Sandel

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: PG for CGI Spooks, a Slightly Sociopathic Ventriloquist Dummy, and Carnivorous Candy

Release Date: October 12, 2018

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween employs the same sequel strategy as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, wherein most of the of the original’s characters are elsewhere, but the new characters read about their story as they figure out what they need to do to defeat the same set of scares. This approach could make for a weirdly different follow-up, but in this case, Goosebumps 2 is basically an alternate version of the first Goosebumps. Once again, the monsters from R.L. Stine’s series of books have been unleashed into the real world, with Slappy the Dummy serving as the twisted ringleader. And also once again, a group of youngsters must chase them down and get them sucked back into their pages. That’s not all, as we all get the return of the concept that Stine must complete an unfinished story to subdue his monsters, but that thread doesn’t go very far because Jack Black, as Stine, has much less screen time than he did in the original. It ends up being one big joke that he does not show up soon enough to offer much of any help, while also giving the sense that there was an alternate screenplay that had some remnants show up in the final version.

Haunted Halloween actually does want to distinguish itself, what with it taking place on the titular holiday. The idea of the terrors of Halloween coming to life is a potent one, though it has been explored before in other, better flicks. Director Ari Sandel struggles to make any of his efforts stand out, because so much of the chaos is just a mess of CGI (though one sequence involving ravenous gummy bears is well-realized). And the plot is fairly cliché, with an older sibling annoyed by her dorky younger brother and his goofball friend, while the parents just don’t want to hear nothing about a talking doll. But Goosebumps 2 does have a few moments of delight, mostly thanks to the presence of total comedy pros like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ken Jeong, and Chris Parnell. And, let’s face it: Slappy can be quite the edgy little stinker.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is Recommended If You Like: Sequels That Ignore the Original But Not Completely

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Incantations

This Is a Movie Review: Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

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CREDIT: Bob Mahoney/Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Marton Csokas, Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Michael C. Hall, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Sizemore, Julian Morris, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Kate Walsh, Maika Monroe, Bruce Greenwood, Brian d’Arcy James, Noah Wyle

Director: Peter Landesman

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for FBI Agents Yelling When Suspected of Leaking

Release Date: September 29, 2017 (Limited)

Former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt has been portrayed or parodied in plenty of movies and TV shows, his presence an easy source of tension, frequently cloaked in the shadows of intrigue and mystery. When Hal Holbrook set the template for all Felt performances in All the President’s Men, he literally remained in the shadows. Of course, for decades, the role was not “Mark Felt” but “Deep Throat,” the pseudonym for the informant who provided The Washington Post with key details about the Watergate scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. Now that Felt (here played by Liam Neeson) has been revealed as Deep Throat, a fascinating film about the man behind the informant is ready to be made, but The Man Who Brought Down the White House is too erratic and overstuffed to be that film.

The story of the Watergate break-in and its fallout is familiar to basically every American who has lived during the last 45 years. It is an ur-scandal, providing a lens through which all governmental scandals – really all public scandals – are interpreted. We don’t need Mark Felt to re-tell that story, and yet it does. To be fair, seeing everything through Felt’s perspective – the channel through which all information in this affair goes through – is fascinating, but not so fascinating to make the familiar exciting again.

As far as I can tell, Mark Felt’s main purpose is to draw back the curtain on all the hoopla that springs up around any person who exists anonymously for so long. There is plenty of material to mine for a rich domestic drama. Felt’s wife Audrey (Diane Lane) is alcoholic and shares much of the stress he’s under, but her story seems like it could be that of any FBI agent’s wife and not Deep Throat’s specifically. The film’s other major point is that for all the good Felt did as an informant, he was not exactly a hero through and through. He was as guilty as (perhaps more so) anyone else in the FBI who violated American citizens’ civil rights. But save for one compelling scene snuck in at the end, that aspect is merely glossed over.

The major shortcoming of Mark Felt is all it attempts to stuff into just a little more than an hour and a half. Every name in the impressively sprawling cast list brings their bona fides, but nobody has the space to carve out a memorable character. Mark and Audrey reunite with their daughter (Maika Monroe) at a hippie commune in a third act twist that plays like it is so supposed to put everything that came before in perspective but mostly feels like it comes out of nowhere. If Mark Felt makes any cogent point, it’s that you always need folks like Woodward and Bernstein to compile everything together cogently and lucidly.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is Recommended If You Like: Watergate completism

Grade: 2 out of 5 (Nonexistent) Secret Files