All the wicked charm and confident charisma that makeWill Smith a movie star are present in spades in "Hitch," a brightand sharp-witted -- if predictable -- romantic comedy about a matchmakerwho coaches lovestruck schmendricks in the wooing of otherwise unattainablegirls of their dreams.
Letting go his action-hero persona, Smith's winning waywith clever come-ons and witty rejoinders becomes the pulse of this smarter-than-averagecrowd-pleaser that revolves around two archetypal love stories told withamusingly atypical details.
One of the romances is orchestrated by Alex "Hitch"Hitchens (Smith) on behalf of a client -- a hapless, nebbish nice-guy accountant("The King of Queens'" Kevin James) who has fallen from afarfor an out-of-his-league heiress (ex-model Amber Valletta), whose assetshe helps oversee.
The other involves Hitch's practiced smoothness backfiringon him when he meets his match in a cheeky, confident, fun-loving, resolutelysingle tabloid reporter (Eva Mendes) -- who is bent on exposing New York'smysterious so-called "date doctor" after her paper runs a pictureof the knockout heiress out on a date with the dork.
Having not yet learned who her target is, Mendes ("Outof Time") and Smith have a teasing, irresistible,almost Howard-Hawkesian, chemistry between them from scene one. When theyfirst meet in a bar, they flirt by insisting that they're not flirting-- while describing in enticing detail what each of them would do if theywere. Their dates are all disasters, but in ways that keep drawing themback together in spite of it all.
With surprising credibility, the stout, tongue-tied Jamesand the slinky-sweet Valletta complement each other as well, with an appropriateawkwardness, as he stumbles and gaffes onto her romantic radar while trying(and often failing) to follow Hitch's imaginative game plan for winningher heart.
But it's the uncommonly snappy dialogue by first-time screenwriterKevin Bisch, and his gift for seasoning almost every scene with subtlelittle character flourishes and creative formula twists, that give "Hitch"its consistent and lingering smiles. Example: When our hero advises hisclient that he must impress Valetta's best girlfriend to stay in the game,James is thrown for a loop when "she" turns out to be a gay guy.
The movie also rises above the genre norm because theseromances are driven more by genuine moments between well-drawn charactersthan by the underlying date-doctor gimmick. Smith and James find enoughfamiliarity in each of their characters that any guy can identify veryclosely with both of them. Mendes eschews clich=E9 as the cunning gossipreporter who is genuinely happy as a single woman, but cautiously opento a romance with Hitch. Only Valletta is short-changed by her underwrittenobject-of-desire role.
This isn't to say that contrived episodes don't rear theirugly heads from time to time -- that's what keeps "Hitch" frombeing great guy-centric romantic comedy in the vein of Stephen Frears'"High Fidelity." Director Andy Tennant ("SweetHome Alabama") falls back on montage sequences,manufactured misunderstandings and poorly conceived slapstick from timeto time (heavily tapped for the movie's terrible trailers and TV ads).
But until it conspicuously sidesteps the fallout of oneof those misunderstandings -- which leads to an easy, rather pedestrianfinale -- "Hitch" always rights itself again with more momentsof unexpected depth or great humor, often involving Smith's ongoing asidesto the audience.
Run time: 118 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th February 2005
Box Office USA: $177.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $368.1M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Overbrook Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 124 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Andy Tennant
Starring: Will Smith as Alex 'Hitch' Hitchens, Eva Mendes as Sara Melas, Kevin James as Albert Brennaman, Amber Valletta as Allegra Cole, Julie Ann Emery as Casey Sedgewick, Adam Arkin as Max, Robinne Lee as Cressida Baylor, Ryan Cross as Charles Wellington, Michael Rapaport as Ben, Jeffrey Donovan as Vance, Ato Essandoh as Tanis, Nathan Lee Graham as Geoff, Paula Patton as Mandy, Philip Bosco as Mr. O'Brian, Navia Nguyen as Mika, Matt Malloy as Pete
Also starring: Kevin Sussman
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