It must've made for a great pitch meeting: Male chauvinist advertising executive gains the ability to hear the thoughts of any woman around him. Add Mel Gibson--as Nick, the divorced "man's man" who can charm almost any woman into bed--and you've got high-concept comedy made in Hollywood heaven, right? Not necessarily. The smartest thing director Nancy Meyers did with ''What Women Want'' is dispose of this ludicrous plot contrivance before it wears out its welcome. It's fun to see Mel react to a deafening chorus of female thoughts, but his dubious "gift"--courtesy of an accidental electro-shock in his bathtub--is a mixed blessing for the audience. The women in Nick's life conveniently think in complete sitcom-friendly sentences, and the novelty quickly wears thin.
The movie improves by focusing on the fallout of Nick's predicament. Exploiting his unfair advantage, he sabotages the career of his new boss (Helen Hunt) even as he's falling in love with her; says all the right things to the aspiring actress (Marisa Tomei) who previously spurned his advances; and uses mind reading to curry favor with his 15-year-old daughter (Ashley Johnson). This two-faced scheming isn't malicious, however, and ''What Women Want'' is blessed by Gibson's amiably nuanced performance. His graceful riff on Fred Astaire is a dazzling surprise, and as Nick reforms, Gibson takes major credit for whatever depth this movie achieves. After a bit of nonsense, ''What Women Want'' has a lot to say about male ''and'' female behavior, be it noble or unappealing. It's both amusing and truthful, and that's almost as fun as a glimpse into someone else's brain. ''--Jeff Shannon''