Movie review: 'Hitch'

2 stars (out of 4)

Will Smith looks great in the previews for "Hitch." But in life or romance, you can't judge books by their covers or movies by their trailers.

In the seemingly ubiquitous ads for this flashy new romantic comedy, we see Smith playing a character that seems ideal for him, Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a romance-savvy dating coach, a kind of "Straight Eye for the Shy Guy" who specializes in teaching the romantically handicapped and socially nerdy how to score in Manhattan's vicious mixed-singles competition.

In those slick two-minute bits, Smith's famous boyish smirk and easy timing are in full bloom; he comes across as urbane, likeable, very comfortable with himself and very funny. In fact, watching those ads, with their crisp gags and plush Manhattan settings, you can't see how he, or the movie, could possibly miss.

But they do. If you've seen the trailers, you've seen almost everything good "Hitch" has to offer, beyond a few amusing dating hints and additional funny moments from Kevin ("King of Queens") James as Hitch's seemingly hapless client Albert Brennaman.

The first, better part of "Hitch" introduces us to these two guys: the legendary date doctor Hitch and Albert, a shy, rotund accountant in love with his heiress/boss Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Then, amusingly, it shows Hitch counseling Albert in the ways of cool: how not to screw up the meeting, mess up the chit-chat, overplay the dance floor moves or sabotage that all-important first kiss.

This part of the movie is fun, though even here the jokes are obvious and sometimes labored, such as the one (already familiar from the trailer) where Hitch tries to demonstrate how to smooch, then recoils when Albert actually kisses him. (James, by the way, is likable and amusing in an underwritten part.) But some of the gags work, the actors seem to be enjoying themselves and the images are big and lush, like a good perfume or auto ad—or, for that matter, "Hitch" director Andy Tennant's previous gaudy romantic comedies "Sweet Home Alabama" with Reese Witherspoon and "Fools Rush In" with Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek.

Halfway through, though, "Hitch" blows up into a splatter of misfired gags, political correctness and unappealing romance. Silly or overwrought things start happening, like Hitch turning down (and decking) obnoxious clients on first meetings. And the movie tries to sell us on an unlikable love match between Hitch and Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a tabloid gossip columnist for the mythical New York Standard. Mendes plays Sara as ultra hard-boiled and super-snippy, even when she's surrounded at the Standard (perhaps some offshoot of the conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard) by bland corporate schmos and cliched editors like Adam Arkin's Max Trundle.

In what might have been an amusing complication, Sara makes Albert and Allegra her front-page targets without realizing that she's actually seeing Albert's mysterious dating coach. But are we really rooting for Hitch? Beyond the fact that Sara is tough and pretty and has attained financial success writing a sleazy column for an opportunistic daily, her attractions weren't obvious to me. In an effort to make Sara hip and modern, the character seems to have been leached of almost all tender or loving emotions, except an occasional fond smile. Most of the time, she acts like the Queen of Tabloid Mean or somebody's prison guard.

One of the movie's main jokes is the way the suave, ultra-cool, always resourceful Hitch—never at a loss when solving other guys' romantic problems—becomes just another fumble-fingered doofus when he's around Sara. Yet Smith doesn't seem comfortable with any of this and the movie starts to disintegrate when the slightly sadistic romance heats up and Hitch turns dorky.But she's badly treated too. I could tell the exact moment "Hitch" went kaflooey: Suave Hitch drives Sara to Ellis Island for an unusual date; then, in the middle of the water, he accidentally kicks her in the head and out of the boat. Even worse, both of them laugh and act as if it's just another silly gaffe, when you'd expect something more extravagant or at least more solicitous.

The weird collapse continues with a series of grotesque sight gags in which Hitch, on another date, breaks out in facial eruptions from a food allergy, a sudden and unexplained disease that makes him look like the Toxic Avenger.

"Hitch" eventually plops into sub-"Three Stooges" territory—but at least The Stooges reacted strongly when they were kicked or poisoned.

First-time writer Kevin Bisch's trying to craft yet another American comedy about the bonding of a stud and a nerd, the kind of thing Alexander Payne accomplished so brilliantly in "Sideways." But there's nothing brilliant about "Hitch," other than Smith's delivery.

The movie, like Hitch, tries to be cool, funny and sweet but falls on its face without generating any real sympathy, smarts or humor. As a guide for the softhearted single guy, a showcase for the savvy single stud or a roadmap for the hard-hearted single girl—or even as simple entertainment for everyone else—it's an equal-opportunity fizzle.


Directed by Andy Tennant; written by Kevin Bisch; photographed by Andrew Dunn; edited by Troy Takaki, Tracey Wadmore-Smith; production designed by Jane Musky; music by George Fenton; produced by James Lassiter, Will Smith, Teddy Zee. A Columbia Pictures release of an Overbrook Entertainment production. opens Friday. Running time: 1:57. MPAA rating PG-13 (for language and some strong sexual references).

Hitch - Will Smith
Sara Melas - Eva Mendes
Albert Brennaman - Kevin James
Allegra Cole - Amber Valletta
Casey - Julie Ann Emery
Ben - Michael Rapaport
Max Trundle - Adam Arkin

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