When we last saw the gang back in 2012, they were hanging out in downtown Culver City, shooting hoops, hitting Happy Hour at Rush Street and wrecking havoc and hilarity at every turn in "Think Like A Man". Employing all the tricks of the dating trade gleaned from Steve Harvey's best-selling book "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man", director Tim Story and a cast that boasted Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Romany Malco, Terrence Jenkins, Gary Owen, Jerry Ferrera, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good and Lala Anthony took us through all the stages of relationships with a fresh, humorous (okay, downright hilarious) take. But so engaging, so amiable, so affable is this cast that the box office demanded to see them again and find out what happened to them, individually and as couples. Which brings us to 2014 and THINK LIKE MAN TOO with director Story and his posse heading to Vegas for the wedding of Michael (Terrence Jenkins) and Candace (Regina Hall). A word of warning though. What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas when it's as over-the-top, laugh-out-loud hysterical as THINK LIKE A MAN TOO!
A lot has happened to our couples over the past two years. Candace and Michael are getting married. Michael's over-bearing and meddling mother Loretta is even more in-their-face than ever before. (But can her attentions be focused elsewhere by super sexy Uncle Eddie?) Corporate-minded Lauren and wannabe chef/restauranteur Dominic are each faced with career opportunities that force them to look inward at their true feelings. And, of course, "Zeke the Freak" comes face to face with former hook-ups at every corner, giving Mya pause for concern. Kristen's biological clock is ticking so loudly that poor Jeremy is a on sexing time table. And the still happily married Bennett and Tish are dispensing tried and true reason on marriage and parenting. And then there's Cedric. Separated from Gail, he's not only looking at this Vegas trip as a get out of jail free card, but the inadvertently self-appointed best man, who determines to be "the best best man in the history of best men."
Needless to say, once the groups segregate into their respective bachelor and bachelorette parties, the party really gets started as the girls determine to outdo the boys as to who has the best party. So while the boys are rather subdued and on their own, best man Cedric desperately tries to win enough money to pay for his $40,000-a-night suite at Caesars (Cedric naturally thought it was $4,000). In the meantime, the girls hit the town for the time of their lives, which just happens to include an inspired montage that turns into a music video to Bell Biv deVoe's "Poison." But what's a bachelor or bachelorette party without strips clubs and lap dances; especially when both groups end up at the same club. . .and in jail. Will there even be a wedding?
One of the most effective and welcome ensemble casts to grace the silver screen, each returning cast member seamlessly slips back into their respective characters as if it was only yesterday when the cameras rolled for the first film. Showing emotional growth and increasing maturity individually and in the various relationships, the result is effortless, believable and resonates with truth. Describing THINK LIKE A MAN TOO as "tapping into a new audience", for Romany Malco, a sequel was a no-brainer. "Rather than leave [the audience] hanging, why don't we give them more of what they want." Echoing Malco's sentiments, Gabrielle Union notes that "I want to know what happens with Kristen and Jerry. I want to know about Zeke and Mya. I want to know where these relationships went. . . Anytime there's a good thing, you want more."
Even more fun this go round is the amped up head-butting between Regina Hall's Candace and Jenifer Lewis' Loretta, the latter of whom commands the screen at every turn with her indelible vocalizations and physical nuance. Hall shows some mettle as the frustrated bride, peeling back emotional layers that show tenderness, heartbreak and frustration. Terrence Jenkins soars this time out as Michael, exploring the depth of being a "mama's boy" while trying to find Michael's own voice and confidence. As career-minded couple Lauren and Dominic, Taraji P. Henson and Michael Ealy create an unspoken tension with moments of quiet thought and decision-making. A pure joy is Romany Malco who embraces "Zeke the Freak" with an almost little kid hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar embarrassment when Meagan Good's Mya is continually faced with meeting Zeke's exes. Once again Gabrielle Union and Jerry Ferrera, now newlyweds, provide a comfortable vibe as Kristen and Jerry, but it's Gary Owen and Wendi McLendon-Covey as Bennett and Tish who deliver the genuinely happy and touching moments that serve as tacit examples of what married life can and should be like. Owen and McLendon-Covey are the grounding of the group and the film and their chemistry and comedic timing together is impeccable. And then there's Kevin Hart who pushes the envelope of laughter with his antics as Cedric. In over-the-top motor-mouthed manic form, there's not a moment he doesn't have you in stitches; be it from a Tom Cruise "Risky Business" spoof to appearing as a club-wielding caveman in a strip club.
Be on the lookout for some fun cameos from some Vegas heavyweights, not to mention Wendy Williams reprising her role as Cedric's wife Gail, and a wonderfully wry comedic turn by Jim Piddock as Cedric's private Caesar's Palace butler Declan. Then there's Dennis Haysbert who makes us all feel that we're in good hands with his turn as Uncle Eddie, especially Jenifer Lewis' Loretta. Haysbert and Lewis heat up the screen with sexy maturity.
Returning screenwriters Keith Merryman and David Newman go beyond Harvey's original book and take the story and characters to the next level with THINK LIKE A MAN TOO. With the actors' voices firmly established in their heads, knowing who they are writing for makes a definite impact with the end product, but not without challenges.
According to Merryman, "It was really daunting for us at first because we're so in love with these characters and all the relationships so we felt this huge responsibility to service all those relationships and then still have this crazy wild adventure." Which meant when it came to the actual writing and story construct, "It was almost like a study in efficiency. How do you get all those storylines in a rollicking comedy that still has the craziness that people love but the reality that people expect from these characters?" Expounding, Newman is quick to note the added element of Las Vegas as both a help and a hindrance. "[W]e wanted to be wild and crazy but we really want to still ground [the story] in the relationships and to tread that balance. . .And we have nine older sisters between us so to us, women are very important. They'd kill us if we didn't have good rolls. . .That was the challenge." Merryman and Newman have certainly kept not only their sisters happy, but the female cast, as THINK LIKE A MAN TOO exponentially increases the screen time and story focus for the women, and never more so than an hilarious lap dance bar brawl sequence and the surprise segment of the film, the music video segment set to Bell Biv deVoe's "Poison." On a more serious note, Merryman and Newman introduce a key relationship issue, that of sacrifice - be it personal or for your relationship and partner - and do so with a great level of understanding and sensitivity.
Keeping the dice rolling with a light, breezy, fast-paced and fun vibe, as with "Think Like A Man", it falls to the narration of Hart's Cedric to set the tone and establish the physical and emotional rhythm. Analogous to almost everyone's personal experiences in Vegas, we ride the whirlwind merry-go-round until that final moment when we have to face ourselves in the mirror before heading back to reality. Here, that reality is the resolution of the personal and professional dilemmas for each character which have come to light during the night. Particularly notable is that THINK LIKE A MAN TOO is color blind when it comes to the biracial cast mix and storytelling, focusing on the universal thread of comedy.
Once again directed by Tim Story, like his screenwriters, Story also had to face the added pressures of expectations arising from the success of "Think Like A Man". Admitting, "It's scary", Story's ace in the hole was his cast. "One of the things I knew was that the chemistry with these guys and girls is so great that as long as I had the right platform we'd be fine. It was just about getting story, script and all that stuff together. You gotta go into this and shoot for the stars and see what happens." With a more complex multiplicity of storylines, Story keeps all the balls in the air, never sacrificing one character or relationship for another, although with so much going on, at times it feels as if everyone needs to stop and take a breath; including the audience. Adding to the mix is the work of cinematographer Chris Duskin who, together with Story, creates a light, bright, saturated palette that captures nor only the essence of the Las Vegas, but metaphorically speaks to the hopes and dreams of each character or couple.
Shot primarily in Caesar's Palace, celebratory are the sharp glittering visuals that while calling upon the requisite visual (and story) Vegas tropes and cliches, still feel fresh. Furthering the energy and freshness is Peter Elliott's editing which effectively employs split screens and calculated montages amidst the rapid-fire banter.
Christopher Lennertz completes the experience with an upbeat, energetic score that compliments lyric tracks, subtly enhancing the unspoken emotional arcs of the characters.
Gabrielle Union may describe THINK LIKE A MAN TOO best. "I think we figured out how to give you all the characters that you love, the fun that you look forward to but some new surprises, a couple new characters. We answered some questions and gave you some new mysteries and new places to go. And it's way funnier than the first one."
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO. Too rollicking, too raucous, too funny for words.
Directed by Tim Story
Written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman based on the book by Steve Harvey, "Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man"
Cast: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Romany Malco, Terrence Jenkins, Gary Owen, Jerry Ferrera, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good, Lala Anthony, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jenifer Lewis, Dennis Haysbert, Wendy Williams