February 14, 2005

'Hitch' Arrives Just in Time for V-Day

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Hitch, the charming but flawed romantic comedy starring Will Smith and Eva Mendes, which opens just in time for Valentine’s Day, seems from the beginning a promising version of the meet-cute variety. Poised favorably under the auspices of the effortlessly smooth Will Smith as the titular Alex Hitchens, the gifted sitcom veteran Kevin James (of The King of Queens fame) as his client Albert and a solid premise rife with comic potential, the movie simply cannot founder — and it doesn’t. But, as it becomes clear after the first half-hour, Hitch is a film invested heavily in the ability of Smith and James to flourish in situational gags and physical humor, and this doesn’t leave much time for the story to get on its feet.

As anyone close to a TV should well know by now, Smith plays Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, professional dating consultant, the man who knows all the right moves when it comes to women. Hitch will show you how to nab any woman’s attention and hold on to it, he’ll break down the kind of nonverbal messages you’re sending to your girl and give any schlumpy nice-guy a fighting chance with the woman of his dreams. “Any man can sweep a beautiful woman off her feet,” Hitch informs us, “he just needs the right broom.”

Enter Hitch’s latest client, the pudgy milquetoast Albert (James) who has virtually no game when it comes to the ladies. Horribly inept and utterly hopeless when he first meets Hitch, Albert is in love with Allegra Cole, the celebrity heiress whose account his investment firm manages. The buddy team quickly seizes the opportunity for Albert to make his move at a board meeting involving Allegra and, taking Hitch’s plan of “Shock and Awe” a little too far, Albert manages to get Allegra’s number while getting himself fired.

While Albert romances Allegra and blossoms into a suave Don Juan all his own, Hitch falls for a woman who challenges all his rules governing the opposite sex. The perennially cool Date Doctor is out of his element around the gorgeous and cynical Sara (Mendes), who writes a New York Post-ish gossip column and proves immune to the doctor’s moves. In the male-jaded and decidedly single Sara, played by a sourpuss Mendes in what the curmudgeonly role calls for, Hitch has found a true match for his wits, someone who will make him rethink his knowledge of women.

But this relationship, which masquerades as a subplot, never gets off the ground, and it’s almost as if the writers structured the entire movie around a few scenes involving the ridiculously ham-fisted James character and threw in a few half-baked storylines to make a movie of it. Most of the scenes involving James–who arguably steals the show– hit all the right notes and Smith more than holds his own alongside his shambling sidekick, but Mendez’s Sara is dull and underwritten, with few funny scenes of her own. Hitch’s biggest problem is that it relies too heavily on the performances of Smith and James to push its vapid storylines forward to some of the big laughs we have already seen in its played-to-death coming attraction.

A crudely unbalanced affair altogether, Hitch doesn’t really go anywhere for the first hour and a half until a requisite, and shamefully forced, conflict in the third act upsets the characters’ potential for happiness. Like the rest of the film, this plot twist has almost no sentimental bearing at all, and most audiences will wait for Smith and James to get things back going with some spastic dance moves and slapstick.

For fans of Smith and James, Hitch, if only for a few big laughs, is definitely worth seeing; but for most it will be a mediocre, if not disappointing, lesser version of the strong-premised, well-casted, great comedy it could have been.

Archived article by Jason Remsen
Sun Contributor