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 clichés 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