There’s a cosmic rightness to gender-swapping a Mel Gibson sexual politics comedy. Instead of his boorish ad exec, here we meet a boorish sports agent in Taraji P. Henson’s ferocious Ali. She too learns to be more understanding of the opposite sex when she quite literally gets inside their heads, but the gender switch makes this a very different beast.
The power dynamics, of course, are fundamentally altered in this Adam Shankman comedy. Whereas Gibson’s Nick was a privileged guy who missed out on one promotion, Ali is a black woman who has been fighting her way into the (white) boys’ club of major league sports representation. She therefore has, perhaps, more of an excuse for selfishness, having been isolated by colleagues and blackballed for partnership several times. After learning that she can read men’s minds, she discovers how to get ahead without punching quite so hard (it’s no accident that her father, played by Richard ‘Shaft’ Roundtree, owns a boxing gym) and it feels like personal growth. And unlike in Gibson’s version, there’s no plagiarising of anyone else’s ideas, just tuning in to what would-be client Jamal Barry (Shaun Paul McGhie) and his awful dad Joe ‘Dolla’ (Tracy Morgan) actually want. But it also feels a more fairy-tale-like outcome than that of the original film; Ali has had far more serious hurdles to overcome, and not all of those will disappear at the end.
There’s a lot going on in this film, with threads devoted to Ali’s professional life, her crush on a neighbour (Kellan Lutz), her relationship with Aldis Hodge’s immensely likeable Will, the influence (or not) of psychic weed dealer Sister (Erykah Badu), her friendship with other women and her abuse of long-suffering assistant Brandon (Josh Brener). It’s long as a result, and yet some segments are still underserved: Max Greenfield is wasted as a rival agent and it sometimes feels like there’s set-up missing. The film’s best when it trusts Henson to deliver a laugh without mugging or screaming desperately for a reaction, and calms down enough to just let her shine.