Sunday, October 5, 2008


"Lethal Weapon" superstar Mel Gibson shows his softer side in director Nancy Meyers' "What Women Want," an entertaining but stereotypical battle of the sexes romantic comedy that co-stars Helen Hunt, Alan Alda, and Bette Midler. Cast as ace Chicago advertising executive Nick Marshall, Gibson plays the quintessential man's man: an unapologetic male chauvinist who believes that you can sell anything if bikini-clad babes bedeck it. Success thus far has proved Nick right, so he fully expects his chummy boss, Dan Wanamaker (Alan Alda), to promote him as the agency's new creative director. Unfortunately, Wanamakers is in big trouble, and in an effort to save his ailing ad agency, Dan decides to target women rather than men. "Girls born in the mid-1980s control our advertising dollars," Dan explains. "It's a woman's world. You can get into their pants better than anyone I know, but getting into their psyche is something else." That said, Wanamakers hires an outsider, Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt), recently booted from a rival agency on the basis of sexual discrimination to fill the spot that Nick thought he had sown up.

At their first meeting, Darcy gives everybody an array of feminine products: toenail polish, pantyhose, lipstick, mascara, a wonder bra, and leg wax. She asks them to concoct a campaign that will make these items irresistible to women. Nursing his bruised ego but willing to tough it out, Nick experiments with these wares to find an innovative advertising angle. Meanwhile, Nick's ex-wife Gigi (Lauren Holly) is getting remarried and dumps his 15-year old daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), on him while her new husband and she head off for their honeymoon. Nick polishes his toenails, applies mascara, leg wax, and cavorts in the bathroom with a hair dryer. Accidentally, during his fantasy role-playing, he falls into the bathtub and electrocutes himself.

No, Nick doesn't wind up with a halo and a harp. Instead, he can hear the innermost thoughts of all the women, especially his prom-bound daughter. Initially, this drives Nick totally nuts. Eventually, he appeals to his former marriage counselor (Bette Midler) and proves to her that he can read her thoughts. "If you know what women want," Bette's eyes bug out, "you can rule!" And rule Nick does. He uses his uncanny talent to read Darcy's thoughts and steal her ideas. Before long Dan believes that he has misjudged not only Nick but also Darcy. Nick's sudden sensitivity even astonishes Darcy, so that when Nike comes to court Wanamakers, the unscrupulous Nick uses Darcy's ideas to land the account.

The premise of "What Women Want" (*** out of ****) is the stuff of classic screwball comedies. Of course, only in a movie could somebody survive electrocution and emerge as a mind reader. If you can dismiss this preposterous plot device, the subsequent comedy and romance that ensue should please both sexes. Predictably, Nick sees the error of his ways. As Mel's first romantic comedy since 1992's "Forever Young," "What Women Want" qualifies as amusing fluff that gives Gibson a change of pace.

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