Tim Story’s new romantic comedy “Think Like a Man” is much more entertaining than the other date movies out last weekend (although, to be fair, “The Lucky One” does feature a Death Treehouse). “Think Like a Man” is a luxury-level blacksploitation movie about the effects of a book about romance. So it is essentially “Breakin’ All the Rules” only with four parallel stories—like “Love American Style” or “The Love Boat.”
The stories show how the romances of four different couples go when those involved have all read and believed comedian Steve Harvey’s 2009 book “Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man.” Harvey appears in the movie as himself, usually in mid-talk-show bloviating. His basic idea seems to be that men can be successfully manipulated by determined women. The girls can get the guys to be more professionally ambitious, to behave with old-fashioned manners, and to propose marriage.
In our four romances we see representatives of Harvey’s labeled types. “The Player vs. the Ninety Day Rule” is one. Here a man seeking sex is played by a woman using Harvey’s rule that women should only have sex with men after they have been going out for three months (which the author somehow learned from Ford Motor Company). Eventually the rule girl surrenders when the Don Juan surprises himself by saying he loves her.
Another romance has “The Mama’s Boy vs. the Single Mother.” And so on. A banquet waiter (“The Dreamer”) goes after a corporate C.E.O.—”corporate C.E.O.” is an apparently unimaginable but highly-desirable profession in today’s films for African-American audiences. A slacker’s live-in girl friend tries to use Harvey’s techniques to get her lover cleaned up and on one knee.
Eventually, of course, the men are talking and discover that their women use similar terminology—”short term goals” is one of their phrases. This leads the basketball players to Harvey’s book, which they then try to use for their own ends.
The stories are tied together by on-screen labels, Harvey’s appearances, voice-over narration, and the clowning of a fifth man. So here is a movie that is very much about a Topic (how women can cynically influence men’s behavior) and that is over-loaded with apparatus. It succeeds partly because the cast is solid—journeymen Michael Ealy, Megan Good, Regina Hall (who is really good here), Kevin Hart, Taraji Henson, and Gabrielle Union all appear.
Then, too, the Topic, no matter how artificial, is interesting. And Director Story, who did the two Fantastic Four movies and “Barbershop,” has enough sense to keep things clipping along, minimizing the effects of all the extraneous structure and the intrusions of pop culture. Still, almost every character says, “I’m just saying” sometime in the movie, or so it seems.
“I’m just saying” means the same thing as “Ah.” Happily, references to “baby mamas” are less frequent than ones to Jesus. The pop music on the soundtrack is usually racially-indeterminate soul. And even where the script demands a cliche that is not racial, as when the waiter serves dinner to his rich girlfriend on the rooftop, Story cuts the tired stuff short.
“Short” is important here for another reason. The men are not very tall, as a group, or the women are giants. It is sort of fun to watch all the ways Story has set up scenes so that couples’ faces are level. Then, too, the transition comic is a short fellow whose estranged wife, we learn late, is big. There the movie wants to display the discrepancy in height.
The problem for “Think Like a Man” is that the list of what’s interesting about it—its Topic, its story-telling style, the acting, and such like—doesn’t include its plot. But given the weakness of other recent date comedies, this movie seems like a winner.