What is essentially a shameless and overlong infomercial for Steve Harvey's dating advice book becomes more tolerable and even enjoyable at times with the help of an attractive, likable cast in "Think Like a Man."
Harvey's best-seller "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" serves as the launching pad for four intertwined stories in which various types couple up and try to make a go of it. There's Dominic, The Dreamer (Michael Ealy), and Lauren, The Woman Who Is Her Own Man (Taraji P. Henson); Zeke, The Player (Romany Malco), and Mya, The 90-Day-Rule Girl (Meagan Good); and so on.
But the ladies involved are armed with the knowledge of male romantic peculiarities that they've gleaned from the book - Tim Story's film makes it seem as if every woman in Los Angeles carries it around all day like a Bible - so every move they make is calculated and executed strategically to get what they want. Conversely, the men grow suspicious, find out that the book exists and turn its words back on the women as their own weapon to get what they want.
These kinds of manipulative machinations seem arduous and archaic - and they did back in the mid-1990s when they were better known as "The Rules," a book which itself arose from Eisenhower-era notions about the proper way for a lady to behave in a relationship. Gabrielle Union's character - Kristen, The Ring Girl - comes off as especially obnoxious when she tosses out all the fanboy collectibles belonging to her boyfriend of nine years, Jeremy, The Non-Committer (Jerry Ferrara). It's been nine years already - just leave the dude rather than forcing him to become who you want him to be.
I'm all for putting the best version of yourself out there and whatever happens, happens. But hey, the source material is what it is, so what are you gonna do?
Story has a way with a comic ensemble cast, having directed "Barbershop"; he keeps things moving at a (mostly) lively clip and gives Los Angeles a glossy sheen. (Besides serving as an extended ad for Harvey's book, "Think Like a Man" also feels like a promotional tourism video for certain sections of Culver City, where Sony's studios are located, as well as the LA Live entertainment complex downtown.)
Ealy and Henson are insanely sexy together and, unlike the rest of the characters, they feel like actual grown-ups; the scene in which he brings her breakfast in bed, shirtless, is sure to inspire audible gasps. Stand-up comedian Kevin Hart is, unsurprisingly, a scene-stealer as the fast-talking, newly divorced guy of the bunch. The banter between the male friends, who frequently meet to play basketball, provides a snappy energy as well as some amusing cameos. And you have to give "Think Like a Man" credit for not only trying to serve as an alternative to Tyler Perry-style date-night fare, but for even going so far as to make fun of those movies for their soapy conventions.
But the script from Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, who also wrote "Friends With Benefits," is crammed with plot and gets bogged down with contrivances. Will Michael, The Mama's Boy (Terrence J), finally snip those apron strings and find love with Candace, The Single Mom (Regina Hall)? Probably. But only after a lot of time, angst and the kind of embarrassingly public I-love-yous that only take place in the movies.
"Think Like a Man," a Sony Screen Gems release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content, some crude humor and brief drug use. Running time: 122 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.