Winning cast plays the romantic game
Because "no man ever proposed marriage from natural causes," as Barbara Stanwyck noted in The Lady Eve, the foundational work in the underappreciated genre the Mantrap Movie, a woman needs a plan. And because "the CIA ain't got nothing on a woman with a plan," as Anthony Anderson noted in the definitive Defense-Against-Marriage comedy Two Can Play That Game, the game is now in overtime.
Everybody wins in Think Like a Man, the disarming comedy based on comedian Steve Harvey's self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, that inventories the strategies of both the offense and the defense. From one perspective, it might be reduced to the sentence: Gals, don't give it up till he puts a ring on it. From another: Guys, here's how to avoid the three-ring circus of engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
Eight can play this game. And as they include Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, Jerry Ferrara, and Regina Hall. it is hard to imagine a more attractive ensemble. Following the general outlines of Harvey's book, which presented case studies of presumably incompatible couples such as The Dreamer (Ealy, low-key as an aspiring chef) and The Woman Who Is Her Own Man (Henson, as a high-powered executive), the film illustrates how opposites on the dating spectrum might complement each other.
But because the screenplay conceives courtship as essentially strategic rather than romantic, the film strikes the familiar beats of a sporting contest rather than the rarer chords of love. No matter. As there are four intersecting storylines to track, and as the rowdy, randy screenplay by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman (Friends With Benefits) pitches wisecracks at the speed of 75 m.p.h., it wants only to entertain - and it succeeds.
Directed by Tim Story, who juggled multiple storylines in Barbershop, a similarly entertaining and good-natured comedy, the goal here is the same as speed-dating or speed-chess: capturing the queen in as few moves as possible.
Harvey has a recurring role as himself, flogging his book and dispensing advice such as, "Women, don't hate the player, change the game!" The film goes beyond the hoary, "Read the book, see the movie" synergy by embedding the book within the movie.
Unlike Barbershop, which unfolds within the particular social context of a black Chicago neighborhood, Think Like a Man is set in a universal Los Angeles of hookups, fixups, and courtships. One would have to have a heart of stone not to melt when Zeke (Malco), king of one-night stands, plants a kiss on Mya (Good), who tests his commitment by observing the 90-day rule.
The rules of goal-oriented dating and romantic comedy are much the same. If no man proposes marriage from natural causes, then unnatural ones will be contrived. Story and collaborators succeed in making a courtship comedy that will entertain women and amuse men.