A gimmicky best-selling book about love, sex, and marriage has been made into a high-concept romantic comedy with an all-star cast. “He’s Just Not That Into You”? No, that was so 2009. This time the inspiration is the book by stand-up comic and talk show star Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment. The advice is the same — the stunningly obvious and yet too often ignored principle that people will treat you the way you insist on being treated. If you expect a man to open the car door for you, he will — and he will recognize that you are a woman who deserves respect and courtesy. If you give it up within an hour of meeting him or continue to live with him without any prospect of building a real home and family together, he will think you do not honor yourself and he will not honor you. And some women need to learn to choose their men by their hearts, not their resumés. Both men and women need to learn that lesson in this ensemble story about a group of friends and what happens when the ladies take Harvey’s advice — and then when the men find out what is going on and try to turn the tables.
At the most superficial level, the movie is suitably entertaining, with beautiful and talented performers coping with a range of romantic challenges. There’s a player named Zeke (Romany Malco) and Mya (Meagan Good) who wants commitment. There’s Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a very successful female executive who wants a “suitable” consort. An aspiring chef (Michael Ealy as Dominic) does not fit her PowerPoint-worthy strategic plan.
A “mama’s boy” who brings his mother along on a Valentine’s Day dinner (Terrence J) has to decide if he can allow another woman (Regina Hall as single mom Candace) to come first in his life. And Kristen (Gabrielle Union), who feels as though the place she shares with her boyfriend (Kevin Ferrara as Jeremy) is a frat house, wants a home that looks like grown-ups live there — starting with getting rid of the disgusting old sofa. The group is rounded out with a happily married guy and pepper pot Cedric (Kevin Hart) who is in the midst of a miserable divorce and self-medicating his hurt feelings with visits to strip clubs.
The cast gives the usual rom-com banter as much sizzle as they can, and there is a whole second level of pleasure just in seeing these stars get a chance to play romantic leads. Malco, terrific as a doorman in “Baby Mama” and a sidekick in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” makes an assured transition to leading man and Ealy has an enormously appealing screen presence. King, Union, and Hall should all be doing the roles that get sent to Katherine Heigel. It is good to see an almost all-black cast get a chance to make a glossy romantic comedy but it would be great to see them do something more than the usual multiplex formula. A few Tyler Perry jokes (however welcome) are not enough to make this feel anything other than disappointingly generic.