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“You know that whole thing about penis envy? Not true. They don’t want it. Hell, most of them don’t even like it.” So figures Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) at the climax of What Women Want, a romantic comedy about a boorish New York ad exec—”the ultimate man’s man,” according to his still-swooning ex-wife; “Uncle Dad,” according to his pissed-off 15-year-old daughter—who wakes up one day to find he has the ability to read the minds of the opposite sex. Directed by American University grad Nancy Meyers (whose first big-screen helming job was the 1998 update of The Parent Trap) and written by sitcom vets Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (who head the writing team for CBS’s The King of Queens), the movie is an unbalanced endeavor at best. The dry, awkward setup takes a long half-hour, the middle portion is often very funny, and the laughless finale drags as Marshall, completely unhinged by the voices in his head, tries to set things straight with his unlikely love interest: his cold, solo-flying boss (played by a disturbingly orange-hued Helen Hunt, who is now unable to play anyone but Helen Hunt). As for what’s going on in the heads of females, Goldsmith and Yuspa don’t strive for too much pointed insight: women either really want to screw Marshall or really want to screw him over. Although Meyers tries to cram too much into the mix (a subplot about a homely, suicidal girl does nothing more than get in the way; an uncalled-for cameo by Bette Midler smothers a great gag) and should have spent more time developing at least one multidimensional female character (after all, this is What Women Want), the director is still smart enough to exploit the talents of her main attraction. Playing off his image as a tough-talking, chain-smoking lethal weapon, Gibson embraces his feminine side with sparkling comedic gusto—and saves several scenes by displaying some surprising Cary Grant-like panache. A quick fling with a coffee-shop cashier (Marisa Tomei) gives Marshall a fleeting (but, sigh, hilarious) case of ED when the moans of ecstasy coming from his conquest’s mouth conflict with the vitriolic put-downs screaming from inside her head. And during the movie’s sweetest moment—set to Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants”—Marshall tries to make amends with his daughter (star-in-the-making Ashley Johnson) by taking her shopping (and shopping and shopping) for what she wants more than anything: a prom dress. —Sean Daly