February, 2005, Comedy

Directed by:Andy Tennant

Starring:Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, and Julie Ann Emery

Despite the fact that he’s nearing his 37th birthday, Will Smith’s screen persona still conveys the juvenile fecklessness of his television success in “Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”. The loopy grin, the self-confident/self-conscious strut, the inarticulate gushing around beautiful women; all these combine to identify an actor that’s likely to play the irrepressible-adolescent-as-leading-man for some years to come. Smith puts that ebullience to curious use in this romantic comedy in which he plays a suave “date doctor” who manages to make a complete mess of his own love life while helping other hapless suitors shape up theirs. The result is a harmless piece of fluff, enormously aided by the good-natured comedic skills of Kevin James and the torso of Eva Mendes, whose size 4 bod crams very attractively into the size 2 dresses she got from wardrobe. Early box-office results suggest that Hitch’s predictable, formulaic approach to the genre won’t hinder its commercial success one bit.

Hitch makes his living by turning his hapless clients into the type of romantic hero women find irresistible. Hectoring the clueless Lotharios who employ him, Hitch relies on extensive research of his targets and instructive techniques on how to meet, communicate with and kiss the girl of each man’s dreams. Some of this stuff is actually quite clever in the first reel, especially when focused on Albert, (Kevin James) an accountant who works for a financial management firm. One of their biggest clients, a Paris Hilton wannabe named Allegra Cole, (Amber Valletta) has captured Albert’s heart and winning her affections for his bumbling but besotted client will be the capstone of Hitch’s career. 

But insinuating Albert into Allegra’s life carries the risk of unwanted public exposure; the young heiress is the object of so much society page attention her initial dates with Albert alert gossip columnist Sara, (Eva Mendes) to the possibility of a major scoop. Operating incognito, Hitch and Sara meet and Hitch finds himself falling for her, making a complete ass of himself in the process. Secrets will out of course; Sara and Allegra discover what Albert and Hitch are up to and dump them, only to discover that the poor sods really were honorable in their intentions just in time for the obligatory wedding reception finale.

Smith is more screen personality than actor; on those few occasions when he’s ventured into more serious roles, (Ali, The Legend of Bagger Vance) the characters are consistently at war the expectations of his audience. James fares much better; his chunky build carries an appealing heart of equal size, and his Albert is as intensely likable as he is humorous. The lush Cuban/American looks of Eva Mendes have graced a half-dozen earlier dramatic films and she’s a bit out of water here; lovely to look at, but rather unconvincing as a career-driven journalist. 

Hitch was directed by Andy Tenant, the journeyman responsible for Reese Witherspoon’s equally shallow entry in this genre, Sweet Home Alabama. If nothing else, he knows how to get American audiences to settle for movies peopled with attractive folks who neither do very much nor leave a lasting impression. Hitch fits squarely in that category; it’s as light as low- carb beer and just about as satisfying.    


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