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May 12, 2006 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | May 12, 2006 |

One of the many platitudinous pearls of wisdom that Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) shares with his clientele in their initial consultation is that 80 percent of the way someone communicates with you is nonverbal, which, by my estimation, makes the romantic comedy, Hitch, about 80 percent successful. The cast is easy on the eyes, the New York surroundings are a joy to look at, and the movie’s pratfalls and sight gags are everything that Ben Stiller is not: hilarious without being excessively masochistic.

Unfortunately, the other 20 percent of Hitch — involving the actual exchange of words — is about as unpleasant as a Jay Leno monologue, without any of the ripped-off Letterman jokes. Going in, you are best advised to ignore another bit of Hitch’s axiomatic advice, “stop staring at her breasts and listen,” because, at its best, Hitch is cinematic cleavage attached to a body with little heart and even less of a brain. But the combination of Eva Mendes’ dimpled smile, Will Smith’s charisma, and Kevin James’ ability to channel Chris Farley without the drug-fueled mania are enough to make Hitch worth sitting through, if for no other reason than the movie’s final dance sequence, which is as side-splittingly goofy as anything I’ve seen in months.

Will Smith plays Hitch, a date doctor with a moralistic approach, helping good-natured dweebs woo the women they love by selling his brand of romance, which is essentially well-packaged sleaze wrapped in a bow of charisma. Hitch is not above a little manipulation, but his intentions are well placed; he thwarts any potential clients who seek only to get laid on the first date, opting instead for the third-date rule — he is not a pimp, after all. In particular need of his services is Albert (Kevin James), a tubby tax-accountant in love with an out-of-his-league heiress, Allegra Cole (supermodel Amber Valletta). James, who is making his first major big screen appearance, manages to steal every scene he is in through his mastery of physical comedy, eliciting laughs even when the script cannot.

As a romance consultant, Hitch succeeds with other people’s love lives, but predictably, can’t figure out his own. He’s as lost as any of his clients when he falls for Sara (Eva Mendes), a tabloid reporter in the mold of His Girl Friday’s Rosalind Russell, without all that rapid-fire wit to distract us from her cleavage (a note to women: as a Valentine’s Day date movie, Hitch is a perfect romantic comedy for your significant other, as long as you look like Eva Mendes).

In Hitch, Will Smith makes the leap from action star to romantic-comedy lead, though he is still playing essentially the same character he has always played, including his cameo in last year’s little-seen Jersey Girl, when he played himself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; Smith has enough on-screen magnetism to rise above even the worst material (see, for instance, every Fourth of July weekend movie of the last decade), and may be the only actor besides Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off who can break the fourth wall casually enough not to call too much attention to the fact that he’s doing so.

Hitch’s two major subplots eventually intersect when Sara tries to run down the identity of Allegra Cole’s suitor and, ultimately, realizes that Hitch is the date doctor, which inevitably leads to one of those romantic-comedy misunderstandings that must be cleared up before closing with one of those feel-good endings that we all want, if for no other reason than it means that the tortuous bridge between the conflict and denouement is finally over and done with and we can get on with our lives knowing that the leads are content in their celluloid worlds.

The director, Andy Tennant, who has made a nice little niche for himself in the sweet, not-too-bad-but-nothing-to-write-home-about romantic comedy genre (Sweet Home Alabama, Ever After) lets the movie’s principals run free, mostly capitalizing on the built-in personas of Will Smith and Kevin James, though he completely underutilizes Michael Rapaport, who is relegated to only one scene in the film’s beginning. First-time screenwriter Kevin Bisch is the movie’s real source of consternation, however, delivering a mostly formulaic script that fails to live up to the potential of the actors involved and never successfully captures any of the behaviors or foibles associated with the real-life dating world, something even the lamest stand-up comics can usually achieve.

Still and all, if you can get past the weak dialogue (sample: Will Smith: “Love is my life.” Kevin James: “No! Love is your job!”), then Hitch is about as painless a romantic comedy as you are likely to get, and it sure beats the hell out of the other contender for your Valentine’s Day chick flick, The Wedding Date.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

Hitch / Dustin Rowles

Film | May 12, 2006 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.



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