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Hitch (February 7/05)

It's interesting to note that even though he cut his teeth on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hitch marks the first time Will Smith has appeared as a leading man in an all-out comedy. That Smith comes off as effectively as he does isn't much of a surprise, given that the film essentially plays like a two-hour sitcom. Screenwriter Kevin Bisch emphasizes tired jokes and stock situations over anything resembling reality, something that's exacerbated by a seriously overlong running time.

Smith stars as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a smooth-talking ladies man who makes his living teaching lonely guys how to win over the opposite sex. It's not the sort of business one can run ads for, so Hitch depends solely on word-of-mouth to bring in new clients. His latest project is Albert (Kevin James), an overweight accountant with a crush on the ridiculously wealthy Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Meanwhile, Hitch finds himself falling for a sassy gossip columnist named Sara (Eva Mendes) - a relationship that will undoubtedly be tested before the credits roll.

It's that sort of safe, unoriginal plotting that eventually kills Hitch, with Bisch including every element that one would imagine is inside the Romantic Comedy Rulebook. This isn't inherently a bad thing, as it's certainly possible to transcend the limitations of the genre (ie Kate & Leopold) - a feat that Hitch doesn't even come close to accomplishing. This is particularly noticeable in the expected false breakup, a plot twist that generally happens towards the end of such a film. Here, the false breakup occurs with more than half an hour of screentime to go - a section of the movie that's made interminable because we know the characters in question are going to get back together (a problem heightened by another false breakup involving two more characters!)

Despite the charismatic and engaging performances from Smith and James, the film never becomes anything more than a mildly entertaining way to kill a couple of hours. Hitch does start off strong, though; the film doesn't feel quite as constrained by the machinations of the plot during the first half. It's only when Hitch's romance with Sara kicks in that the movie begins to turn tedious and predictable, with Bisch following the aforementioned Romantic Comedy Rulebook to the letter (this is in addition to several wacky, sitcom-like episodes, including a "wacky" sequence in which Hitch's allergies act up at a completely inappropriate moment).

In the end, Hitch is mediocrity elevated to a watchable level, thanks primarily to the performances (particularly James, who proves that he's got what it takes to make it on the big screen).

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