Will Smith's welcome return to comedy, and a welcome return to form.
The latest Will Smith vehicle is a romantic comedy. That statement alone should give you a rough idea if you're going to get much out of Hitch, depending on your current opinion of a) romantic comedies and b) Will Smith. After his latest run of poorly received action outings in the abysmal Bad Boys 2 and the mediocre I, Robot, his latest flick moves back to what brought Smith to the dance in the first place - his comedic talent and general likability.
Alex 'Hitch' Hitchens (Smith) is the near mythical Date Doctor, a consultant specialising in helping ordinary guys get the attention of women considered out of their league. He seems to be facing his greatest challenge to date in helping rotund investment banker Albert (Kevin James) turn the head of it-girl socialite beauty Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). With a little coaching on how to be a little less of a berk, he seems to be giving Albert a fighting chance.
Actually, the doctor is having more trouble taking his own medicine. Hard nosed gossip columnist Sara (Eve Mendes) has pretty much written men off as a species thanks largely to a life devoted to catching philandering celebrities on the job, but Hitch takes a fancy to the lass. Embarking on a seduction course that sways wildly between suave and disastrous, his expectations are confounded and hence comedy derived.
Yup, Hitch is so conventional a romcom as to render descriptions thereof pointless, as dollars to doughnuts you can guess eithout out help the trials each character will face with the crushingly inevitable conclusion that the cynical characters not convinced of the overwhelming wonder of love will be converted by the time the credits role. In many respects this really is just another entry to stick on the genre list, but it's actually pretty funny, occasionally charming and rarely less than entertaining so perchance further investigation is warranted.
The strongest suite of the film is certainly the one that's been marketed most prominently. This is very much the Will Smith show, so if you're unconvinced of his worth then it would perhaps be best to stay away. That said, this is a relatively rare straight comedy outing for the chap and it's pretty refreshing to see him returning to his natural talent for comedic timing and expressions. <lazy journalistic cliché>If you liked Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, you'll love Hitch!</lazy journalistic cliché>
Ahem. Sorry. Went a bit Paul Ross there. Anyway, part of the reason Smith's schtick works so well is from the support he's given - if Smith exudes the detached cool required for his consultancy work to appear believable it's Kevin James who raises awkwardness to an art form. Insecure, clumsy and permanently ill at ease, he might be the kind of guy you'd fondly imagine murdering were you working alongside him but for the ninety-odd minutes we get to spend with him he's not outstaying his welcome.
Of all the characters it's Mendes that falls flattest, but that's really more due to some overly conservative scripting than anything else. Certainly her interaction with Smith is believable and there's some chemistry there, albeit more test tube than oil refinery in scale. Nah, the problems come once the required by tradition 'Boy loses girl' part of the tale kicks in. Flying off the handle with Hitch having established pretty much nothing, she not only jumps to conclusions she does so from a basis of complete ignorance. This is quite annoying, part of me wishing Hitch left her to die a miserable spinster rather than pursue this flaky bissom. What's more annoying is that it really didn't have to happen at all, their relationship was trucking along to a nice, believable happy ending all by itself without the need for the conflict/resolution cycle that seems to be there for the hell of it.
You can't blame the director for sticking to formula. Andy Tennant's last outing, Sweet Home Alabama might have been as funny as a death in the family as far as we're concerned, but you can't really argue with the box office it pulled in. Hitch actually adds jokes to the mix, unsurprisingly making it a far more enjoyable experience. Anyway, his directorial duties here are handled in more or less the manner you'd expect from a romcom, i.e. point camera in right direction and hope the stars hit it off. For the most part they do, so we'll grant him the minor transgression detailed above.
Hitch is popcorn cinema. You're not going to drop it into the lists of best films of all time, or the best films of the year. In fact it would only just scrape into a list of best films this month. What it lacks in depth and originality it makes up for by telling its familiar tale well, and no matter what high-falutin' types might have you think that's about all that's important. Hitch is funny and on occasion charming, and that's about all we need to ask from it.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Eva Mendes (Sara)
Kevin James (Albert)
Amber Valletta (Allegra Cole)
Julie Ann Emery (Casey)