Where are the good movies about African-Americans? The answer is far longer than this space will allow for, but one major reason is that Caucasian-dominated Hollywood doesn’t know how to market films about African-Americans to a broad audience unless it comes from a popular source like a Broadway musical (Dreamgirls) or a best-selling novel (The Help). The ensemble romantic comedy Think Like a Man is based on a dating advice book by comedian/radio host Steve Harvey called Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, and it’s no worse than the equivalent movies about white people. In fact, it’s better in many ways because of its actors. Still, their talents could have been put to better use.
Harvey’s book plays a role in the film, as various women hear about it and apply his advice to pressure their boyfriends into complying with their wishes. The story is narrated by Cedric (Kevin Hart), a recently divorced guy who watches the boyfriends in question — who are all his basketball-playing buddies — lose ground in the battle of the sexes until they get hold of Harvey’s book and try to use his advice toward their own ends.
Harvey’s dating advice (what we get of it from the movie, anyway) isn’t all that original, but the movie and everyone in it take it as gospel. Also it’s somewhat unsettling that everyone wields the book as a secret weapon, and no one tells the significant other that he or she has been reading it. Screenwriters Keith Merryman and David Newman squash the advice book’s rules into the mold of a romantic comedy, and despite the best efforts of director Tim Story (Barbershop), the seams are all too clear to see.
What makes this movie so watchable is its cast. The diminutive Hart is a reliable laugh-getter even in the most unpromising circumstances, and he keeps the movie’s energy levels from flagging. Romany Malco plays a womanizer who’s brought up short when he dates a woman (Meagan Good) whose bad experiences with men have made her vow to put her future dates on a 90-day sex-free probationary period. The player confronting the prospect of settling down is a well-worn cliché, yet Malco plays him like he’s the first actor who ever got there, and he turns this confident guy’s wrestling with his confusion into fascinating stuff.
Even better are Taraji P. Henson and Michael Ealy as, respectively, a high-powered business executive who refuses to date men less successful than herself and an aspiring restaurant chef who has inflated his own status to impress her. Henson and Ealy ooze old-school suaveness and charm, and they strike all manner of sparks off each other. It’s so much fun watching these two good-looking, wildly skilled actors at work. Why aren’t they headlining major Hollywood movies? There’s so much African-American talent out there and not enough movies (good or even otherwise) being made to take advantage of that. The shame of it is, we’ve been having this same conversation for the last 50 years at least.
Think Like a Man
Starring Michael Ealy, Meagan Good, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, and Romany Malco. Directed by Tim Story. Written by Keith Merryman and David Newman, based on Steve Harvey’s book.