(On Cable TV, June 2019) The entire gang from the original Think Like a Man is back for more in its sequel as they all head to Vegas for a wedding. Things obviously don’t go as planned, as both the men and the women have their own bachelor/ette party adventures on their way to the wedding. To its credit, Think Like a Man Too knows how much to keep from the original film, and how much variety to include. The change of scenery to Vegas suggests not only new sights and subplots, but new familiar clichés to follow. The tone of the film also shifts slightly—while the emotional growth of the characters does find a few new areas to explore, the couples are well established already and so Think Like a Man Too strikes out for a lighter, more superficial but also more obviously comic tone. Director Tim Story has fun playing with music cues [interrupting the background score for comic effect, or indulging in a full-blown music video set to Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison”—probably the series’ comic highlight and a strong musical moment in a film with a great soundtrack] and his direction is deservedly flashier this time around: with its ensemble cast’s worth of subplots, the film packs quite a lot of stories in its 106 minutes. Plot-wise, the film indulges in familiar Vegas excesses, but seems to breathe more easily now freed of the shackles of the self-help book that inspired the first film. Still, the fun of the film is spending some more time with its sympathetic characters, whether it’s the boys or the girls. Michael Ealy has been bumped up to leading man, with Kevin Hart being used just a bit too much in his over-the-top persona and Dennis Haysbert having a very funny minor role. Distaff-side, Taraji P. Henson and Jenifer Lewis seem to have the most to do, although you’ll be forgiven for staring at Meagan Good, Regina Hall or Gabrielle Union. Shallowed but funnier than the original, Think Like a Man Too offers just enough of the same and just enough new to be a worthwhile follow-up to the original. I watched both back-to-back, and still liked everything about the series after four continuous hours.
(On Cable TV, June 2019) As an ensemble romantic comedy, there isn’t much in Think Like a Man that hasn’t been done countless times. But knowing what happens next is part of the charm, and charm is what this film has in abundance. Part of it is akin to hanging out with friends and checking out the good-looking members of the opposite sex. We get to spend some time with characters incarnated by Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Romany Malco, Terrence J and an appropriately limited dose of Kevin Hart (far better used in supporting rather than leading roles), as well as get a good long look at no less than Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Taraji P. Henson and Gabrielle Union. It’s a wonder it took me seven years to watch the film—I should have known better. Set in Los Angeles, it’s a breezy, highly enjoyable romantic comedy, somewhat reminiscent of the 2014 version of About Last Night (with which it shares three lead actors and a setting) albeit more comic and less romantic. Given that it’s a two-hour movie with four main couples and an ensemble cast, nearly everything follows strict genre conventions, through the inevitable ups and down and semi-synchronized victories. The main problem with the film comes from its premise, not only adapting the content of comedy/relationship book by Steve Harvey [“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.”] but also placing the book itself in the middle of the plot as a how-to guide that leads the characters in their action. Truth be told, the “wisdom” of the book is either basic or reflective of fairly set ideas about relationships: you’d think that the supposedly smart characters would know how to treat everything in moderation. But that’s the way the movie goes, so it’s not particularly useful to rebel against the premise. Thanks to some unobtrusive direction from Tim Story, Think Like a Man moves quickly and efficiently through the bits and pieces of its plot, with some well-integrated music tying it all together. Michael Ealy is a near-perfect romantic lead, Meagan Good is quite good and I would watch Gabrielle Union movies all day long if I could. (Also, Wendy Williams has a two-scene cameo.) Still, the result is pleasant enough, funny enough and romantic enough to be a welcome watch (especially as a chaser after a few days of horror movies, Italian neorealist dramas, and noir films … but your mileage may vary). I liked it better than I thought, and I thought I’d like it a lot.
(On Cable TV, March 2015) I wasn’t expecting much from this low-profile romantic comedy (a remake of a 1986 film based on a 1974 David Mamet play), but I should have suspected otherwise given that it stars the enormously likable Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant. Set in downtown Los Angeles, About Last Time details a year in the life of four young people, during which they meet, fall in love, break up, reconcile and change careers. Almost immediately charming, it’s a film built on dialogues and performances, and all four main actors truly knock it out of the park, with particular mentions for Hart and Hall, both of whom play the uninhibited comic relief couple to the more conventional Ealy and Bryant. (Elsewhere in the film, Paula Patton has another great but too-short turn as a romantic antagonist.) While About Last Night isn’t particularly original, it’s slickly-made, modern, almost constantly funny and features intensely likable actors. It’s hard to ask for much more from a romantic comedy
(On TV, January 2015) The problem beyond movies that crank up their drama beyond a reasonable threshold is that they either become funny or annoying. Seven Pounds, to its credit, begins with a fascinating mystery: Who is this sad man, what has happened to him and what is he doing? As the protagonist’s actions are revealed, though, the overwrought drama kicks in. Are we being shamed in our loose morality by a fictional character so selfless? By the time the ending rolls by, even the most sympathetic viewers will spot at least two or three major holes in the plot, and it takes a lot of forgiveness to be moved by the film’s extreme sentimentality. Will Smith is actually pretty good in the lead role, stretching acting muscles seldom used during his career. Opposite him, Rosario Dawson is unexpectedly captivating, while Michael Ealy makes an impression in a small role. (One can’t say the same about Woody Harrelson, largely wasted in a generic role). Some of the details of the film are interesting, and Gabriele Muccino’s direction is handled with skill. Still, the impression left by the last few minutes of the film is one of increasing bewilderment, if not outright disbelief: By cranking up the dramatic stakes so ludicrously high, Seven Pounds undoes quite a bit of its careful quiet setup. I’m just not sure it deserves the ending it reaches for.
(In theatres, September 2010) Keeping expectations low is one way to best appreciate Takers given how this surprising California-noir crime thriller recycles a bunch of familiar elements into a watchable whole. The story, about a crew of Los Angeles professional bank robbers pulling off one last heist even as the FBI is closing on them and dissention strikes within their ranks, is so generic as to approach cliché: You can pick bits and pieces of Heat, Cradle 2 The Grave and even The Italian Job out of the finished result and it’s not as if the dialogue is anything special. Worse yet is the direction, which feels forced to use an incoherent shaky-cam style every time something interesting is happening, undercutting our ability to make sense of what’s going on. But despite the problems, it works: Takers features a fine multiracial cast (with special mention of Idris Elba, Michael Ealy and Paul Walker), a snappy rhythm, a few surprising stunts and a compelling sense of place for Los Angeles. What may sour the impression left by the film is a curiously off-balanced moral center, with fairly unpleasant cops taking on glamorous criminals with crime-financed luxurious lifestyles: The ending provides plenty of bloodshed and little reassurance as to who, if anyone, actually fulfilled their objectives. Still, if Takers may not be original… it’s entertaining enough.