Arriving in theaters just days before Valentine's Day, "Hitch" follows "The Wedding Date
" as the second romantic comedy in a span of two weeks. Like that trivial Debra Messing-Dermot Mulroney starrera virtual remake of two or three dozen other movies from the last decade"Hitch" is a formulaic and blatantly predictable effort. Unlike "The Wedding Date
," "Hitch" rarely feels like an insult to the viewer's intelligence. Despite staying close to archetype in its plot trajectory, director Andy Tennant (2002's "Sweet Home Alabama
") and first-time screenwriter Kevin Bisch eclipse the genre norm in their perceptive views on love relationships and the nature of one's emotional attraction to another.
The opening ten minutes of "Hitch" are quite possibly its most original and alive, a kind of short film in and of itself that follows three average men (Matt Malloy, Kevin Sussman, Ato Essandoh) and their successful, lovelorn courting of three beautiful women (Maria Thayer, Navia Nguyen, Nayokah Afflack). With little dialogue and fleeting screen time, this trio of couples are made into people who seem authentic, their intimate, growing adoration for each other not only plausible, but also magical. What do these lovebirdsperfect strangershave in common with each other? The unlucky-in-love fellows have been given a crash course taught by mythical "Date Doctor" Alex Hitchens (Will Smith), their lessons dealing with how to please and enchant women while growing self-confidence of their own.
Alex's latest assignment may be his toughest, to date, when the perpetually clumsy, overweight Albert Brennaman (Kevin James) walks through his doors asking for help in wooing supermodel Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Albert, unlike so many men, doesn't just see Allegra for what she looks like, but also for who he believes her to be inside. As Alex begins helping Albert in matters of the heart, he unexpectedly falls for a woman of his own: cynical gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes). Initially chilly toward him, Sara soon warms up to this charming man who doesn't seem like such a dog, after all. What she doesn't yet know is that Alex is the "Date Doctor" she has been hearing about, an eventual discovery that may threaten to tear them apart.
"Hitch," which plays like a lighter-toned version of 2004's underrated "Alfie
" right down to Alex's occasional words of wisdom to the camera, isn't exactly innovative fare. What it lacks in originality, however, it makes up for in smile-inducing charm and a quartet of fine performances. For seekers of earnest romanticism that avoids sugarcoating the pitfalls and pain that newfound, at times unrequited, love comes with, one could do a lot worse than "Hitch." The writing is snappy, the characters likeably flawed, and the progression of both romancesthat between Alex and Sara, and Albert and Allegraunforced and natural.
In his first role as a romantic lead, Will Smith (2004's "I, Robot
") slips effortlessly into the genre. Smith ingratiates Alex 'Hitch' Hitchens with a cocky self-assurance at the onset that gradually takes a turn toward the opposite. A man who makes a living at bringing people together, Alex himself is a commitment-phobic who learns through his relationship with Sara that he may not be the perfect smooth-operator he had thought. Smith has an easy-going chemistry with Eva Mendes (2003's "Stuck on You
"), a lovely talent able to bridge the gaps between tough-as-nails and vulnerable, and heartfelt and comical. Her unanticipated reaction to being shown her great-great-great grandfather's signature in a museum book from when he immigrated to Americaa romantic gesture on Alex's partis priceless in Mendes' delivery. Smith shares the other half of his scenes with Kevin James (TV's "The King of Queens"), whose take on the bumbling Albert is just right, mixing sincerity and comedy without going over-the-top. This is a star-turn from James, who proves he has what it takes for further big screen roles. Rounding out the four major players is Amber Valletta (2003's "Duplex
"), bewitchingly non-stereotypical as wealthy, kind model Allegra Cole.
In reaching its foreseeable "happily ever after" ending, "Hitch" lumbers along for much longer than it should, approaching the two-hour mark when ninety minutes would have sufficed. Of course, Sara and Alex break up and are bound to reconcile, so there is no excuse in dragging it out past its limits and throwing in additional roadblocks when a simple exchange of words could clear misunderstandings up in a heartbeat. Extraneous supporting characters, including Alex's married buddy, Ben (Michael Rapaport), who shows up for one scene and never appears again, could have also been excised without any bearing on the soul and point of the story.
Too many false endings and time issues asideHollywood is notorious for not knowing when to quit"Hitch" is difficult to discount when it handles the rom-com formula better than most of its insufferably dumbed-down ilk. The film is far from rocket scienceit's pretty fluffy, for the most partbut it does hold some agreeable insights on love, relationships, and fear of commitment that actually deals with and discounts early worries about the artificiality of a "Date Doctor" who teaches men to get seemingly unattainable women to like them. The key to this, it turns out, is that Alex simply shows them how to be gentlemanly, charming, and at ease without having to be someone they're not. In other words, he allows the true chivalrous stud in every male to shine througha positive notion. Adding flavor to the proceedings is some attractive location shooting in New York City that goes for the fascinatingly unconventional over the usual, by now boring, movie landmarks. Even if you won't think much about it after leaving the theater, "Hitch" entertains to a pleasing degree while it lasts and is destined to leave a dorky grin on most viewers' faces in its wake.