Sunday, 10 April 2005

Review: Hitch

Dir. Andy Tennant

Hitch - Smith and Mendes

Hitch is premised on an old chestnut of a romantic comedy setup: a guy with all the theories about love (Will Smith, playing the titular character) falls for a girl who makes him rethink all the theories. Smith plays Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a man who makes a lucrative career as a 'date doctor', sprucing up his clients, teaching them to hide their flaws, and engineering situations that make their chosen women fall for them.

Of course, the title, besides being the lead character's name, is a reference not just to marriage but also to interruption, and Alex's blithe take on love as strategy is rudely broken when he meets and falls for Sara Melas (Eva Mendes, who's far warmer and far better here than in any of her previous films), gossip columnist. And so Hitch comes unhitched: the latter-day Cyrano's smooth gliding through the downtown New York social scene (oh, to eat the bread of Balthazar again) gives way to klutzy behaviour, allergic reactions, and generally acting in ways he would advise his clients to steer clear of.

Yes, it's a formulaic set-up. It's fairly easy to construct, just off the top of my head, a list of films I've seen in the last few years in which a man or woman has theories about love that end up being challenged: Down With Love (perhaps its closest relative in recent times, although both clearly recall the Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies), Someone Like You, As Good As It Gets, How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days, all of which were pretty mediocre movies. But while Hitch clearly shows that spontaneity happens in love, of course, one thing I liked was that it didnt feel the need to disparage the obverse and debunk the theories. It respects Hitch's work, rather than considering it sleazy (indeed, it goes to great pains to show that Hitch doesn't accept cads for clients). and thereby acknowledges that just because a moment is engineered doesn't make the underlying emotions fake - that the standard romantic comedy conceit that love "just happens" is not just unlikely, but sells short the effort needed to create the moment. Sometimes you love people for who they are, unguarded; other times you love them for trying.

Paradoxically, however, while Hitch shows the charms of effort, a great deal of the film's breezy charm hinges on the seeming effortlessness of its stars. Will Smith has charisma to burn - a 'flashback' scene shows quite clearly that his jug ears could make him look nerdy if he weren't so damn suave - and that charisma smooves over any plot clunkiness. (Sure, it may be unfair that Smith's natural charms paper over the obvious plot, but as the film itself points out, hey, you only get one shot to make an impression, you better do the best you can with it.) Mendes, for her part, holds her own against Smith. In the secondary plot, Kevin James is funnier here than he ever was in "King of Queens" (not hard, admittedly), playing the hapless nerdy accountant who enlists Hitch's services to help win the heart of rich, beautiful heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). James lets loose with dance moves that reminded me of the "Numa Numa" guy, and he and Valletta make a likeable mismatched pair.

It's always a good sign when a romantic comedy leaves you rooting for the other couples in the plot, not just the main two, and Hitch, for all its cliches (Smith, at one point, makes a cornball toast that includes the line "if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away"), has enough warmth in all its leads to place it a few notches above the average romantic comedy.

Taken from Delta Sierra Arts, my reviews blog.



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