A film review by Craig J. Koban

HITCH jjj

2005, PG-13, 121 mins.

Hitch: Will Smith / Sara: Eva Mendes / Albert: Kevin James / Allegra: Amber Valletta / Casey: Julie Ann Emery / Cressida: Robinne Lee / Geoff: Nathan Lee Graham / Ben: Michael Rapaport / Max: Adam Arkin

Directed by Andy Tennant / Written by Kevin Bisch

 "I was nauseous and tingly all over.   I was either in love or I had smallpox."

-Woody Allen

There are a few women out there that think that a lot of men are real jerks.  Okay, that is most likely true to a large degree, but there are a few good and pleasant guys out there as well. 

  Moreover, a little secret about men is that most of us (you know you are out there) have an enormously difficult time having confidence in themselves with members of the opposite sex.  I myself have been a single and eligible chap for longer than I care to admit here.  I remember the last time I stirred up enough will power and assurance to approach and ask out a girl that I was strongly attracted to.  Well, it did not really goes as planned and I felt like I did just about everything conceivable to make it a rather unsuccessful woe.  Thoughts plagued my mind for days.  Did I wear the right clothes?  Did I say the right things?  What did I do wrong?  More than anything, I was thinking that if I only had a date doctor with ALL of the right answers, then I would have been successful. 

Well, enter Alex Hitchens, aka Hitch (Will Smith) who is actually a date doctor for hire.  However, he’s not the kind of male chauvinist pig that helps confident men try to score with other attractive women.  No, he is more interested in helping the everyman, the nice man, and the kind of man that tries everything to be a success but ultimately fails miserably.  Hitch is not intrinsically interested in setting up desperate men for one night stands; rather, he is simply trying to get those nice men a date with some woman that usually ignores them.  The rest of what happens after that is a further challenge that he willfully takes on.

Hitch’s strategies may seem like age-old adages that appear perfunctory and redundant, but many of them bare a great amount of credence.  For example, he advices one man in the beginning of the film that “Ninety percent of what you're saying isn't coming out of your mouth.”  In other words, it’s not what you say to someone, but how you say it  with your body language.  If you slouch, you reveal a lack of care to your manner and appearance, not to mention confidence.  You can tell a woman how cute she is until the cows come home, but if you can impress her without using words, than you are part of the way there.  Other strategies range from how to avoid costly mistakes in meeting women, how to arrange successful “meet cutes”, not to mention kissing advice for that all important period of the dating ritual where you drop a girl off at home, walk her to the doorstep, and paralyzing awkwardness ensues.

Hitch himself knows a lot, but not because he was a natural born ladies man.  In fact, in a rather humorous flashback to his college years, he was kind of one of those nerdy, impressionable, and perversely naïve young men that thought he loved a woman after only a series of a few dates.  He loved once and when that went disastrously wrong, he turned his own life around down towards the path of self-righteousness and poise.  He began to learn not by doing but by careful observation and ultimately decides to enlist his help to those who lack success with the women of their dreams.  By becoming a date consultant or doctor, Hitch gives hope to all the desperate and lonely saps out there.  And in the dog-eat-dog and maliciously cutthroat world of contemporary New York, his services are, most assuredly, needed in the most desperate ways. 

Hitch imparts his wisdom on what to do and not to do with women and seems to be experiencing a great amount of business.  One young man seems to be the BIG challenge that he has waiting for.  He is Albert (played in a sweet and funny performance by KING OF KINGS’ Kevin James).  Albert works for a big accounting firm who is longing for that special someone.  The problem with him is his complete social ineptitude.  He is large, overweight, and lacking in even modest skills with women.  He’s one of those nice, loveable guys that is boisterous and modest, but is always so clumsy that he seems to have some sort of liquid or food item on his shirt or pants at any minute.  In a nutshell, Albert is fairly hopeless.  To complicate matters, he has managed to fall in love with the most unattainable woman possible, even for men that are in a better position to win her affection.  She is a rich, powerful, and beautiful millionaire named Allegra (Amber Valletta).  She is the antithesis of Albert in every meaningful way, and conventional wisdom would preclude that there is no way on earth that this gorgeous and intelligent woman would date the sap that is Albert…or would she?

Well, Hitch swoops in for the rescue and does everything he can to smooth over Albert’s rough edges and then smooth over his rougher ones.  To Albert, Hitch is a hero, instilling confidence in his abilities to be able to have a chance with this woman (one of his platitudes is “every gorgeous woman wants to be swept off her feet, it just depends on what type of broom you use.").  Well, with some very skilful pointers, Albert manages to impress her enough to secure a date with her.  Well, in a completely selfless act, he puts on a show of outrage at a meeting regarding her finances and abruptly resigns.  Okay, maybe not the wisest thing to do, but his absolute conviction in standing up for her scored huge points to win her favour.  She ultimately becomes  touched by the fact that this man would do so much just for her.

Well, Hitch achieves the impossible by securing a date for Albert with the woman of his dreams, all while still coaching him on the do’s and don’ts for his future dates with her.  There is one very funny moment that reveals hidden and subtle truths about dancing (Hitch tries ever so desperately to make Albert not look like a fool on the dance floor), not to mention a sly and hilarious moment when he tries to teach Albert how to kiss (come 90 per cent of the way and let her do the rest).  His advice is taken, and Albert becomes a relatively decent success with the stunning Allegra.  Hyperbole aside, Albert emerges as one of cinema’s great recent heroes.  If this hapless man can get a date with the woman he’s dreamt of for a lifetime, then there’s hope for all of us!

As successful as things go for Albert, Hitch manages to find some romantic interest for himself in the form of Sara (the striking Eva Mendes).  She works as a chief gossip columnist for a successful New York publication who is equal parts cunning, confident, and nihilistic.  She is so luminous she would have no trouble at all having any man she wanted, but she nevertheless chooses not to.  With Hitch’s first meeting with her he is instantly smitten, and his charm and charisma work, but only to a fault.  You see, Sara makes Hitch work harder than he has ever had to, most likely because she is smart, sassy, educated, and can spot pick up lines and approaches from a mile away.  She appreciates Hitch’s advances, but is one step ahead of him at all times.  Amazingly, Hitch soon begins to realize that, wait a tick, he’s is trying way to hard to be cool with this lady and, in the process, is coming off as not cool. The two have a series of first dates that reach a series of disasters that only Gaylord Focker could empathize with.  The first one involves a very subtle and accidental misplacement of his foot with damaging results, which is followed by an attempt to curb her affection that only reduces her to tears of anguish.  “I saw that going differently in my mind,” Hitch drolly deadpans.  A second date ends up for the worst for Hitch, who unfortunately discovers that he has food allergies to fish, with hideous side effects.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, HITCH works, for the most part, as being a light-hearted, silly, and likeable comic romp that gets its laughs in surprising ways.  It’s not out to make us giggle with bodily functions and gross out bathroom humor, but rather it’s an appealing comedy by creating equally appealing characters.  The film is a textbook exercise is romantic comedy screenwriting 101, where opposites attract; one finds out one’s secret, becomes angry and distant, which consequently forces the other to work overtime to win her back.  Nothing about the story is new, and its predictability and pedestrian nature are not really all that surprising.  Yet, the film works despite its obviousness because we invest in and like nearly all of the characters.  Hitch is an amiable man who must come to grips with his own inevitable inadequacies, and it’s refreshing to see Will Smith avoid another tired retread in the action film genre.  In HITCH he is at his best, which means playing up to his natural comic talents.  Kevin James also creates another sympathetic figure in Albert, as does Amber Valletta as Allegra, who sort of surprises us with just how soft and sensitive of a woman she is.  Sara is a bit trickier to dissect.  She is obsessively attractive, but kind of socially klutzy and goofy, and Eva Mendes with this film (on top of her fine work in STUCK ON YOU) reveals herself to be really funny at light comedy.

HITCH is ultimately successful because of the chemistry of all of the participants and the likeability of the stars themselves.  It is a film that kind of meanders aimlessly at times and definitely is way too long for its own good (at two hours, comedies this light tend to wear out their welcome by the ninety minute mark), but it's still is a breezy and daft romantic comedy that had its laughs and heart in all the right places.  Many have commented that this looks like a “chick flick”, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, it’s a modestly entertaining romance for couples to like, but its really a love letter to all of those down-on-their-luck men out there who want to sweep girls off their feet but feel that they are not empowered to do so.  In this way, HITCH is therapy for the “nice guys” out there that feel disenfranchised by their lack of success with women.  This film sort of supports the notions that anything is possible when you think its impossible or unattainable.

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