Hitch (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Hitch is a pleasant, if slightly overlong, romantic comedy from two men who have forged reputations in the genre. Director Andy Tennant is no stranger to love stories, having previously helmed Fools Rush In, Ever After, and Sweet Home Alabama. And, although Will Smith has had some success as an action hero and a dramatic leading man, he is at his most appealing in this kind of movie, when he makes us laugh and gets the girl.

Hitch in underpinned by a simple premise, which makes it a surprise that the running time comes close to two hours. The length is the film's lone noticeable problem - snip about 20 minutes off of it, and it would have been a breezy pleasure. (So much for the unwritten rule that no movie can sustain comic momentum for more than 90 minutes…) But the expectation of third act romantic complications causes Kevin Bisch's screenplay to bog down during its final 40 minutes, and even the appeal and chemistry of the actors can't prevent Hitch from losing some of its load.

Alex Hitchens (Smith) is a self-proclaimed "date doctor." His job is to help ne'er-do-wells in the dating game stop messing up so they can find true love. He identifies common mistakes, suggests "meet cutes," and gives dancing and kissing lessons. Hitch follows the common motto of "those who can't, teach." His own love life is a void. The knowledge he imparts is based on observation, not experience. Hitch loved once, and the pain from that experience has kept him from getting back in the saddle - until now. Enter gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes), who captures Hitch's attention from their first meeting. A series of disastrous dates does nothing to dissuade the couple from the realization that they might each have found "the one" in the other.

Meanwhile, Hitch has a new client - Albert (Kevin James), an overweight accountant who wants to woo the love of his life, celebrity Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). The date doctor pulls off the seemingly impossible - teaching Albert how to get Allegra to notice him. But that's the easy part. The hard part is convincing Albert to relax enough so that Allegra won't be turned off on a date with a goofy guy who lacks self-confidence.

If you think you know where Hitch is going, you're probably right. Like most romantic comedies, this one is light on surprises, with predictability being considered an asset by many aficionados. Yet Hitch possesses something many entries into the genre lack: a sense of humor. There are times when this movie is hilarious. Consider, for example, Hitch and Sara's first date, when a poorly placed leg maneuver causes them both to end up in the Hudson River. Then there's another assignation, in which the discovery of a food allergy results in a mad dash through supermarket aisles in search of Benadril.

Although there's sufficient chemistry between Smith and Eva Mendes, and Kevin James and Amber Valleta to convince us that love is in the air, the strongest pairing is that of Smith and James, whose mentor/student relationship results in several of the film's strongest scenes. The buddy moments offer a nice counterbalance to the potentially saccharine romantic interludes, avoiding the "all hearts and flowers" trap that occasionally causes seizures by male members of the audience who show up to impress a date.

Hitch is 2005's lone legitimate contender for a Valentine's Day movie date. (I will ignore the existence of the dismal The Wedding Date - hopefully movie-goers will follow suit.) Couples will find this to be a pleasant way to spend an evening. Not only does it follow the expected trajectory of Cupid's arrow by piercing the heart, but it brushes against the funny bone as well. Even though a little less Hitch might have been a better thing, the Fresh Prince keeps the proceedings from becoming too stale.

Hitch (United States, 2005)

Director: Andy Tennant
Cast: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Julie Ann Emery
Screenplay: Kevin Bisch
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Music: George Fenton
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Release Date: 2005-02-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1