Monthly Archives: April 2005

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

I’m a big fan of the late Douglas Adams’ series, so going in I had a slate of expectations but also a working knowledge of this kooky universe. I really don’t think this film will work for anyone but the fans. The movie isn’t even structured like a screenplay, it has more of the novel’s loose loopy feel. Some things work wonderful, like the Vogons, giant marvelous looking puppets made by Jim Henson’s studio. The cast is mostly excellent (Alan Rickman steals the show as the voice of Marvin, a very depressed robot). The animated guide entries in the Hitchhiker’s book are colorful, stylistic, and witty. Somethings, however, don’t work at all. The additions to the story, an increased romantic angle between our lead Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and Trillian (Zooey Descehanel) as well as a flat happy ending that rewrites all the opening danger. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy occasionally serves up some juicy bits of wacky humor or visual fantasy (John Malkovich’s bit part is weird) but unless you were a fan of the book series, you’re really not going to be able to follow along or have any interest in keeping up.

Nate’s Grade: C+

The Interpreter (2005)

This is a polished political thriller that hearkens back to the day of the 1970s, where Hollywood was willing to put out smart, complicated, involving political intrigue and have faith that adults would enjoy. The premise is sound and director Sydney Pollack sure knows how to add layers of complication and mystery as well as make you doubt everyone’s involvement. A scene where all the film’s major players somehow get on the same down town bus is a masterpiece of nuanced suspense. The ending, not so much. Nicole Kidman, as the white African U.N. interpreter that hears a planned assassination one night, is credible but a bit weightless in her part. It’s not enough the pretty girls are taking the ugly girl parts (Monster,The Hours), but now they’re taking African parts? Granted, the idea of a white African allows for a new insight into the struggle for ethnic and cultural identity. Sean Penn gives a nicely rattled performance, giving his character more edge then it even deserves. The Interpreter is a geo-political thriller that trusts its audience and mostly delivers a good time.

Nate’s Grade: B

Hitch (2005)

Isn’t it peculiar that most romantic comedies are written or directed by men? Sure you’ll have your occasional Nora Ephron or Nancy Myers, but it seems that the vast majority of people behind these popular, simplistic, romantic fantasies are men. Is it all a conspiracy? Is Hollywood keeping a nation of women docile with a slew of movies aimed at their soft, gooey middles (no, not the love handles)? We may never know. Hitch is written and directed by men too. Will it be any different from other rom-coms?

Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) is New York City’s most popular love guru. He’s got the methods and the advice to turn any zero to a hero in the dating world. His latest client is Albert (Kevin James), a mild-mannered attorney lacking the confidence to ask the beautiful Allegra (super model Amber Valletta) on a date. Hitch agrees to assist Albert in learning the fine art of impressing women, behavioral signs, and the proper steps to insure a fantastic first kiss (Hitch believes 80% of women can tell all they want from that first kiss). Meanwhile, Hitch is also trying to woo Sara (Eva Mendes), a prickly gossip columnist distrustful of most men, especially the ones that show interest in her. Hitch persists and sets up elaborate dates that seem to misfire one after the other. His sure-fire rules and methods aren’t working on Sara, so Hitch will have to dig deep to discover the true meaning of love.

Will Smith the actor was put on Earth to do two things, save the world and woo the ladies. Hitch focuses more on the later. Smith oozes charisma and is a natural charmer. He’s all but tailor-maid for the romantic comedy genre as an affable, sly, and lovable lead. He’s an actor that can truly connect with an audience, for better or worse.

James (TV’s The King of Queens) gives the film its biggest laughs and its best moments of heart. His geek chic dance sequence (involving Q-tip wiping, spinning a pizza, and hiney shaking) is a gut-buster, and James plays it with bravado. He’s the doughy everyman and his courtship of Allegra provides some tender moments, like that first awkward kiss. James doesn’t overplay the nervous tics or the low self-esteem but lets Albert feel like a real schmo coming alive.

The lone sour note in this well-cast fable comes from Eva Mendes. I’ve never been impressed with Mendes as an actress so far. What almost kills Hitch is that Mendes is stuck playing a wholly unlikable character. Sara is whiny, mean-spirited, and short-sighted in her actions. When she tries to get revenge against Hitch she ends up rashly destroying innocent lives. She’s supposed to be guarded, the one nut Hitch can’t crack with his dating axioms, but instead she comes off as a rather terrible human being. After a while I started rooting for Hitch to lose because he’d be far happier without being saddled to this insufferable, egotistical, close-minded, bitter human being.

What saves Hitch is that the film wisely decides to put more time and energy on Albert dating Allegra. Albert serves as the underdog, the rooting point for the audience, and he’s true to what he believes. This is quite a contrast to a gossip columnist unafraid to rip people on unsubstantiated assumptions.

Another element that can make a romantic comedy sink or swim is the chemistry of its stars. Here Hitch presents an intriguing dilemma. You see, Mendes and Smith have no connection whatsoever, which is fine because Hitch is just as much a buddy film as it is a rom-com. Smith and James have terrific chemistry and play off of each other with an excellent comedic give and take. This is where Hitch separates itself from the usual rom-com fluff. It’s a tale of three couples, Albert and Allegra, Hitch and Sara, and Albert and Hitch. The film’s about male relationships as much as male-female relations (and the pursuit of male-female relations), and there are hints of truth behind the comic desperation. There is something romantic to Hitch but it cannot be found whenever Mendes steps onscreen.

Hitch has appeal but it can’t help but get caught in the clich├ęs of romantic comedies. As always, misunderstandings loom and push people away when one good level-headed conversation could clear everything up. The climax even involves people chasing after their loved one to stop them from getting on that bus/train/boat/plane/you name it. The climax to Hitch feels way too drawn out, like the film is stubborn to tie up its characters despite a horrendously long running time of two hours. And am I alone on this, or are the majority of romantic comedies now built around some premise of deceit? That doesn’t sound like a good way to start a relationship to me.

Romantic comedies play on our love of the familiar. What makes Hitch work are the characters and the performances. Smith and James make an excellent mismatched team and both men are charismatic, funny, and relatable. Hitch is sweet but not too sappy. This isn’t anything groundbreaking but it is pleasant and good-natured. Hitch is your typical rom-com, a fine buddy flick, and a showcase for the near irresistible charms of Smith. It’s hard not to fall under Hitch‘s spell despite Mendes’ character’s best efforts to sabotage your viewing pleasure. This is one date movie not to dread.

Nate’s Grade: B

Hostage (2005)

A tense thriller that turns the hostage genre on its ear with a brilliant personal twist. Not only must the sheriff (Bruce Willis) try and talk a group of disturbed kids (led by the freaky Ben Foster) out of holding a mob accountant and his family hostage, but he must also try and recover soemthing inside the barricaded house because HIS family is being held hostage by the mob. It makes for some gripping decisions, as every move has two to three intentions, and Willis looks like he’s being put through the wringer. The movie is a great modern turn on the genre, until, that is, it all goes to crap in a preposterously violent showdown. Still, Hostage is a nice turn for Willis and a smart turn for the thriller genre.

Nate’s Grade: B

Sin City (2005)

Like film noir on steroids. Director Robert Rodriguez has made the most faithful comics adaptation ever; giving life to Frank Miller’s striking black and white art. The visuals are sumptuous but the storytelling is just as involving, a perfect mix of noir/detective elements and subversive, highly memorable characters. Sin City may be the most violent studio film … ever, but the over-the-top tone keeps the proceedings from becoming too nauseating, even after limbs are lost, heads roll (and talk), and dogs pick away at living bodies. This is a very ball-unfriendly movie; lots of castrations. The blood even looks like fluorescent bird crap. The stories become somewhat repetitious (anti-hero saves distressed woman), but Miller and Rodriguez keep their tales tight, pulpy, comic, and unpredictable. My friend turned to me after it was done and said, “That was a great movie.” I could not argue.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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