‘Think Like a Man’ improves on the genre | 3 stars

The guys in “Think Like a Man” believe a relationship is defined by three progressive rings: “engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering.”

They avoid each of these phases as long as possible. So the frustrated women in their lives try radical tactics to force change.

That’s the basis for “Think Like a Man,” a funny, sprawling romantic comedy that attempts to say something significant about relationships. Occasionally, it has the ring of truth.

With James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” playing under the opening credits, we are introduced to six friends at their weekly basketball game. These 30-somethings are broken down into recognizable categories: the Player (Romany Malco), the Mama’s Boy (Terrence J), the Dreamer (Michael Ealy) and the Non-Committer (Jerry Ferrara). Also thrown into the mix are their buddies the Happily Married Man (Gary Owen) and the Happier Divorced Man (Kevin Hart), who are mostly there to offer setups and punch lines.

The four principals are in various stages of a romantic relationship. Non-Committer Jeremy has strung along his live-in girlfriend Kristen (Gabrielle Union) for years while never moving beyond his college mindset. He doesn’t understand why she’s not into playing “Call of Duty” until 2 a.m.

Dreamer Dominic is an unemployed prep cook who passes himself off as a rising celebrity chef to Lauren (Taraji P. Henson), a no-nonsense CEO looking for a serious partner.

Player Zeke hopes to casually pick up the jaded Mya (Meagan Good), who has sworn off one-night stands after having too many men sneak out in the morning. Meanwhile, Candace (Regina Hall) is a single mom who mistakes Mama’s Boy Michael for a genuinely sweet gentleman — until she meets his smothering mom (Jenifer Lewis).

The game-changer comes in the form of an actual best-selling book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man,” by comedian Steve Harvey (who plays himself). Harvey tells his female audience during a talk show appearance, “Times have changed, but your playbook hasn’t.” His work supposedly reveals what men really think about love, intimacy and commitment.

Armed with this new battle plan, the women attempt to reinvent their lovers.

“Think Like a Man” avoids falling into the same traps as similar movies (the dreadful “New Year’s Eve,” for one) that typically pack an ensemble with overqualified actors in underdeveloped roles. This crowd-pleaser is well cast with a talented mix of familiar performers who aren’t household names. They are attractive people but not so supermodel-ish that they seem false. (It’s particularly nice to see Henson, an Oscar nominee for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” finally get a chance to revel in some glamour.)

Director Tim Story came to prominence with the 2002 urban hit “Barbershop” before the lure of Hollywood led him to action crapola such as the two “Fantastic Four” blockbusters. He returns to the mouthy character-comedy genre that plays to his skills, confidently juggling many plot lines, personalities and big laughs.

The two-hour film overstays its welcome by about 10 minutes, though. Story seems obliged to give all the characters equal time to wrap things up. This may be more fair and balanced to the cast members, but it doesn’t benefit the viewers.

Perhaps a Non-Committer approach might have worked better.