Tim Story adapted Steve Harvey's love and relationship help book,...

Tim Story adapted Steve Harvey's love and relationship help book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," in 2012, shortening the title to "Think Like A Man," starring Terrence Jenkins and Regina Hall. Credit: Screen Gems

Seven. That's all Steve Harvey hoped for.

"My goal was to be No. 7 on The New York Times Bestseller List . . . and maybe last four weeks," he says.

Why seven?

"I figured it would show I hadn't barely snuck on the list at number taaayen," says Harvey, who was raised in Cleveland but says the number 10 (and other words) with a decidedly Southern twang.

Now for what Harvey never expected.

He never expected his debut book, "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" (Amistad, $13.99), co-written with Denene Millner and first published in hardcover in 2009, to sell more than 2 million copies (and counting). Or that it would last 64 weeks on the Times' hardcover advice bestseller list -- 23 weeks at No. 1, and now for the past two months on the paperback list. Or, most surprising, that it would be made into a movie.

It is, after all, a nonfiction self-help book, a primer for women on men, love and relationships. No characters. No story line.

No problem.

"Think Like a Man," a new ensemble comedy directed by Tim Story, opens April 20. And it's a marketer's dream: a film, based on a book, about four women who buy that book and find it indispensable. This could be a whole new genre for Hollywood.

"The movie looks like a great tool to promote the book, the book is ideal to promote the movie, and if I told you I planned it I'd be lying," says Harvey. "If I could've planned something like this, I'd have planned it 10 years ago."

There's not one but four tales of romance in "Think Like a Man," which -- very Hollywood right now -- has a cast list as long as a Twitter feed. It stars Kevin Hart, Regina Hall, Gabrielle Union, "Entourage's" Jerry Ferrara, Academy Award nominee and "Person of Interest" co-star Taraji P. Henson and more, with cameos by Harvey (as himself) and even glimpses of Rihanna bad boy Chris Brown.

The book is aimed at women, but the film focuses on a group of men.

"It was great to have both sides," notes David A. Newman, who wrote the screenplay with Keith Merryman. "Having it centered on guys means you get to play out the theories of the book."

The film hits Harvey's key points, describing male personality types, from The Player and The Dreamer to The Mama's Boy and The Non-Committer, with Harvey doling out pithy comments, like "Few words are more menacing than the dreaded four -- 'We need to talk,' " and "Men respect women with standards . . . get some."

Hall, who plays Candace, a single mom, admits that after shooting the film, she found herself recalling past relationships.

"It made me look back on some of my choices and wonder -- what was I thinking?" she says, laughing.

Not exactly 'Dear Abby'

Harvey isn't the likeliest of love gurus. The thrice-married comedian and "Family Feud" host started giving advice to listeners on his syndicated radio show. He wrote the book, he says, to advise women as he does his own daughters.

His down-home tips have sparked controversy. Like introducing your child to a new boyfriend sooner rather than later. Hall's character in the film is skeptical but follows the advice. Though she doesn't have kids herself, Hall realized she acts similarly.

"This isn't the same, but I tell people up front -- I have a dog," says Hall. "He's an English bulldog. And he snores. But, y'know, we come as a package."

The most controversial advice?

"The 90-day rule," says Harvey. It's inspired by his days working on a Ford assembly line, when he had to work months before accessing employee benefits. If Ford doesn't give out benefits right away, why should women, Harvey wrote, adding, "Come on now, you know what the benefits are."

His suggestion -- no sex with a new boyfriend for three months.

"Women think the guy's gonna run off," says Harvey. "But he won't -- if he really wants you, he won't."

Scroll through the book's 1,000-plus customer reviews on Amazon.com and, while most are raves, complaints pop up.

"It's pretty sad to depict men as mentally disabled Neanderthals who . . . are incapable of having a conversation, and have to be manipulated into treating women with love and respect," wrote one reader.

"Mr. Harvey's point-of-view is a . . . rehash of stuff that was old in 1960," writes another.

The movie embraces such criticism.

"You fell for that sexist crap?" asks Henson's character, Lauren, a fast-track business exec. "I don't need some baldheaded man in a book telling me [how to act]," she declares.

Ultimately, of course, all the film's characters wind up reading the book, highlighting passages, quoting from it. The book becomes a character itself, with plenty of screen time and dramatic close-ups.

"I'm just telling the truth," says Harvey, en route to a news conference. "People can say it's 'stereotypical,' but men are the same, I don't care what color, what religion. If you don't think men talk like this, go sit in a room when they don't know you're there and listen to what we say," he notes, chuckling.


A Martian chronicle foretold

Stereotypical or not, the film may spark a trend in self-help cinema.

Summit Entertainment, the folks behind the "Twilight" franchise, purchased psychologist John Gray's bestseller, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," back in 2010. No doubt they'll be watching "Think Like's" box-office returns carefully.

Whether white audiences will line up for a rom-com starring mostly nonwhite actors remains to be seen.

"The movie has nothing to do with color," Harvey states emphatically.

Hall agrees, noting that her girlfriends -- of all races -- say the same things about men.

"That's what's interesting about love," says Hall. "It's the one thing that exceeds color."

"I think if people go with an open mind, the majority of women will see themselves somewhere in this movie," says Harvey. "And all men will see themselves. All men," he emphasizes. "Because we've all been one of those guys."


Other self-help books made into movies



1. EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX* -- But Were Afraid to Ask -- Woody Allen's 1972 comedy was inspired by the bestselling sex manual by David Reuben, M.D.

2. MEAN GIRLS -- The critically hailed 2004 teen comedy, written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan, was based on "Queen Bees and Wannabes," Rosalind Wiseman's nonfiction analysis of high school cliques.

3. SHE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU -- The not-so-critically hailed 2009 romantic comedy, with an ensemble cast and interwoven tales, was inspired by a self-help book that was in turn inspired by a line of dialogue from "Sex and the City."

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