Based on actor Steve Harvey’s book Think Like a Man, Act Like a Woman, Tim Story’s Think Like a Man opens with a series of animated vignettes charting timeless courting rituals from prehistoric times to the present, communicating in obvious fashion that romantic relationships between men and women have been, and always will be, a form of warfare. As in any battle, information is essential to complete victory, and Think Like a Man hinges each escalating round of psychological mortal combat on the words in Harvey’s “self-help” narrative. Since the book itself provides the film’s structure, the characters rely on the manipulation of gender-specific secrets to dominate and control the opposite sex.
According to Harvey, playing himself with smug candor and conviction, men are now lazy when it comes to love because they can get temporary sexual satisfaction (Internet porn, loose women) without exerting much brainpower. The film’s wise-ass narrator, Cedric (Kevin Hart), confirms this idea further when he states “the balance of power has shifted” between men and women in the modern technological age, referencing his male friends as prime examples. The most vocal and volatile man-child in a group of thirtysomethings, Cedric proceeds to introduce each of his compatriots as a byproduct of such male emotional stasis, labeling them based on the examples in Harvey’s source material. There’s “The Dreamer” (Michael Ealy’s Dominic) and “The Mama’s Boy” (Terence Jenkins’s Michael), just to name a few, men who for one reason or another have been oblivious to their own romantic shortcomings.
One by one, each man falls into a new relationship with a stunning and successful woman (Taraji P. Henson’s wealthy executive, Regina Hall’s single mother) who represents their direct social opposite. With mixed results, Story spends the next two hours bouncing awkward fish-out-of-water scenarios off each other, taking characters from both genders on a simultaneous roller-coaster ride into and out of romance hell. Story handles each coupling and trajectory with a loving dedication to punchy dialogue and solid comedic timing. Some of it sticks, like when Romany Malco’s lothario mouths a quip about the downfall of truthfulness: “Honesty is overrated. That’s in the Bible. Old Testament.” However, much of the film plays it safe when it comes to the more complex aspects of race, religion, and social codes, relying on surface silliness for cheap laughs.
It’s clear from the start that Think Like a Man would love to be a scathing riff on the genre of film perfected by Tyler Perry, who uses stereotype and race to connect heavy-handed drama, slapstick, and romance. In one great moment of meta-irony, Dominic spoils the climax of Perry’s For Colored Girls during a group chat with the guys, stating that at the end of the film “some crazy guy throws his kids out the window,” an overtly enraged and outlandishly brutish characterization also played by the very talented Ealy. This referential sense of humor proves that, while seamless and breezy, Think Like a Man has more on its mind that just lustful sex and cheesy movie romance. Unfortunately, like so many women have prophesied regarding the weaker gender’s lack of commitment, there’s just not enough follow through.