Mark Reviews Movies

HITCH

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Andy Tennant

Cast: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery, Adam Arkin

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language and some strong sexual references)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 2/11/05


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Review by Mark Dujsik

For a fairly typical romantic comedy, Hitch is a mildly entertaining diversion that ultimately becomes engulfed in its formulaic trappings. Most of its success lies in the outright charm of Will Smith and the oddball charm of Kevin James and the way these two take straightforward situational comic scenes and make them work in spite of themselves. The interplay between the two is notches above the material, and there's more chemistry between the two male leads than either has with their respective female counterparts. Oddly enough, the most intimate scene in the movie is between the two men (more on that later), and if not for the fact that the scene is played for laughs, it would most likely become another frivolous springboard for Red State pundits to get up in arms about (I'll bet "film critic" Michael Medved will notice it). Off-topic political commentary aside, Smith and James are the movie's saving graces, but there's also something to be said of screenwriter Kevin Bisch's noble attempts to make his title character more than just a gimmick. Unfortunately, Bisch falls victim to the usual plot contrivances that plague romantic comedies and sends the central romance down an all too familiar path of contrived conflict.

Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Smith) knows a thing or two about women, and he's dedicated his life to helping socially hopeless but well-meaning men get the women of their dreams. The process is simple: Boost the guy's confidence, create a situation that gets the girl to notice him, and show him how to act on the first three dates. After three, he's on his own. He's become an urban legend—the "date doctor"—and with a business based entirely on referrals, he hopes to keep it that way. The success stories are many, but Hitch might have his biggest challenge when he meets Albert (James), a CPA with a huge crush on one of his firm's most famous clients. The client is Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), a celebrity who has recently been in the gossip columns for a breakup with her boyfriend. One of those columnists is Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a cynically single woman who keeps her distance from any possibility of a relationship. While Hitch begins to mold Albert, the date doctor himself meets Sara and begins a complicated courtship of his own. Sara and the rest of the world have noticed Albert and Allegra's budding romance, but little does she know that her new flame is partly responsible.

The highlights of the movie involve Hitch and Albert, as the doctor teaches the frumpy accountant a thing or two about how to present himself to the opposite sex. The first impression is one of the major keys, and Albert takes Hitch's advice of being strong one big step too far, getting caught up in his own intensity and quitting his job in Allegra's defense. The display works, though, and now the gags revolve around just how socially inept Albert really is. It's a credit to James' comic abilities that such generic bits as him accidentally knocking over a vase and a running gag with an inhaler (he has asthma, and her name's Allegra—coincidence?) manage to be funny. Then there's the obligatory scene in which Albert dances with more gusto than any man should after 1992, and yet James makes it work. Smith's blank stare of disbelief helps, but Hitch is more than the straightman to Albert's nervous, awkward antics. His own social graces fail him around Sara, although most of the jokes revolving around this setup are completely situational and less effective. Food allergies attack Hitch on one date, and Smith's hacking and choking before the allergies take over are far funnier than the payoff of the sight of his bloated face.

The main problem lies in the romance between Hitch and Sara. Beyond the forced nature of gags within their story, the complications that eventually arise when Sara's job forces her to track down the identity of the infamous date doctor are even more strained. There's a hint that her job and its duties are entirely necessitated by the script in an early office scene, and it all lies in Bisch's clunky dialogue. People do not talk the way Sara and her boss Max (Adam Arkin) do, unless the entire point of their dialogue is to establish their work for later developments. Those later developments are common knowledge by now, and it sets up a series of misunderstandings that could easily be resolved if either party simply sat down and explained the truth. These mandatory, script-induced conflicts wore out their welcome a long time ago, but here they are again in all their formulaic glory. A far more interesting and more reasonable angle to play would be to explore how Hitch's past of rejection has affected how he maintains a relationship now. Bisch hints at how a painful breakup long ago turned him into a man who lives vicariously through his clients, and that makes more sense than a gossip column.

Instead, Hitch is more interested in cliché when it comes to its romance, and the result goes on longer than it should. Smith and James are both hilarious in their own way, and as they build up to a practice kiss in one scene, it shows how two gifted comics can take recycled material and make it seem fresh. And since the comedy is the most successful element here, it only stands to reason that the movie's comic duo should share its most intimate moment.

Copyright © 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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