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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Think Like a Man' best date movie of 2012 so far

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In this film image released by Sony Pictures - Screen Gems, from left, Jerry Ferrara, Gary Owen, Terrence J, Michael Ealy and Romany Malco are shown in a scene from "Think Like a Man." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures-Screen Gems, Alan Markfield)

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In this film image released by Sony Pictures - Screen Gems, Michael Ealy, left, and Taraji P. Henson are shown in a scene from "Think Like a Man." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures-Screen Gems, Alan Markfield)

THINK LIKE A MAN

(PG-13)

3 stars out of 4

At first glance, "Think Like a Man" is just another genre flick (in this case, an urban romantic comedy) but actually offers appeal to mass audiences, all races and both genders. Based on the book "Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man" by the Atlanta-based radio talk show host Steve Harvey, the movie's core audience will be single women and in many ways it is a straight-ahead chick flick, but thanks to the subject matter and a cast that is half male, it's also a guy-bonding affair.

Throughout the film Harvey appears as himself both plugging the book on TV and speaking directly to the audience with bullet points that further underscores the "how to" approach; one that almost never works in movie adaptations with this type of previous publication. But Harvey's book isn't typical and neither are most of the situations his characters are given to navigate. Think of it as a sort of riff on "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" with straight talk taking the place of nebulous touchy-feely, New Age psychobabble.

In addition to having the characters speak in highly relatable plain English, Harvey (as filtered through screenwriters Keith Marryman and David A. Newman) doesn't tell us anything men and women don't already know about the opposite sex. Harvey doesn't give his characters new information, but rather forces them to alter their way of processing and reacting to it. Take what you already know and look at it with different eyes. It's all so sneakily obvious and simple.

As this is a totally character-driven movie, going into plot minutia would be futile, a cheat and a waste of your time. You don't need to know what they do, but instead who they are and what they might really want. Ladies first ...

Candace (Regina Hall) is the single mother of a male toddler whose track record with men is atrocious. Her expectations are grounded and reasonable; she just wants a guy who won't bolt when he learns she has a child. Conversely, Candace's best friend Lauren (Taraji P. Nelson) has no children, wants none but has enormous expectations. A highly-paid corporate executive, Lauren insists that any man interested in her must make more money than she, be exceedingly handsome and culturally refined. Good luck with that pie-in-the-sky hat-trick Lauren.

Like Candace, Mya (Meagan Good) tends to pick the wrong guy every time -- usually a player looking for a one-night stand. She gives it up too fast and then wonders why they leave vapor trails when bolting out the next morning. Of all the women, Kristen (Gabrielle Union) is in the biggest pickle. She's been living with a guy for nine years and he shows no signs of ever popping the question. She's more his frat-house roommate than viable marriage prospect.

The mix of gents is equally diverse and eclectic with their temperaments, attitudes and goals. Alpha male Zeke (Romany Malco) is pure ladies' man. A perfect dresser with impeccable manners and social graces, Zeke offers much counterbalance to the others in his fold. Dominic (Michael Ealy) is the dreamer of the bunch. A budding gourmet chef bubbling over with high-end dining concepts, he lacks the funds to get himself off the ground and the drive to raise them.

Perfect on paper, nice guy Michael (Terrence Jenkins) is also a textbook mama's boy. Ladies already know that no matter how appealing a man might be or what he has to offer, she'll lose in the long run when competing with his mother. Jeremy (Jerry Ferrara) is a guy with zero career drive whose apartment is adorned with fanboy movie posters, action toys, a bong and severely used furniture. Cedric (Kevin Hart) is the odd-man out in the group. He is about to be divorced and seemingly can't wait to take full advantage of his restored bachelor status.

With "Think," director Tim Story recaptures most of the street credibility he established with the first "Barbershop," another ensemble urban comedy that enjoyed hefty crossover success. It's not easy intertwining the plot threads of nearly a dozen principle characters into a cohesive whole (just look at the last two Garry Marshall movies) but Story does so without breaking a sweat.

The filmmakers' considerable achievements are significantly offset by taking a movie that should have run 100 minutes max and allowed it to exceed the flabby two hour mark. Few movies -- comedies especially -- need to be that long. A too-happy ending for all involved also shaves too much off of the believability factor.

Even with these substantial glitches, "Think Like a Man" is funny, smart, original and is thus far the best date movie of this still young 2012. (Screen Gems)