Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Andy Tennant
Screenwriters: Kevin Bisch
Starring: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James
This is nonsense, of course, sugary Hollywood optimism at its most egregious and oppressive — Love Is Everywhere and Conquers All, etc., with an elaborate dance sequence to bring it home. I make no claim that the film is memorable, or even cogent. I will say only that Hitch managed to consistently make me laugh out loud at the end of what was probably the worst day of my life; perhaps I was so badly in need of a distraction that I simply took what I could get, but I did not expect anything this infectious. My state of mind aside, I maintain that the film’s pleasures are real.
One reason, perhaps, is that Hitch has an actual screenplay, with actual characters, written for a discernible purpose. Compare to something like Are We There Yet?, which has no reason to exist except to get Ice Cube atop a horse, chasing a train. The protagonist, a “date doctor” named Alex Hitchens (Will Smith), is conceived as a cartoon — an unreasonably suave ladies man who knows exactly what women want, and when, and how — but he has real insecurities, real issues, and when he speaks, he speaks like an intelligent person.
It is this ability to approach absurd comic premises from the point of view of real human behavior that makes Andy Tennant’s film more than just a dose of romantic comedy saccharine. Kevin James co-stars as one of Hitch’s best customers — a heavy, awkward, nice guy after a beautiful millionaire heiress — and the movie puts him through the motions: ridiculous dance sequences, inhaler-tossing posturing, kissing Will Smith. It’s laughable — and very funny — but the character taps into something that goes beyond slapstick. On a primal level, at least, his motivations feel genuine, his setbacks affecting, his revelations revelatory. It’s not The English Patient, but it hits the spot.
Hitch also has his moments. While his affection for a gorgeous and arrogant gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) eventually veers into the inexplicable — she shows her true colors and renders the love-love-lovey-lovey-love climax frustrating — their relationship is surprisingly multifaceted at points; watch for a confrontation outside his building at the end of the film, and consider how surprisingly deep it cuts. And while indignation from a rom-com protagonist is typically insufferable, it seems justified here, and we are even almost able to put ourselves in his shoes.
Will Smith is a remarkable talent, his reactive comic timing a thing of beauty. I am not a fan of Smith as an action hero — most notably, he irritated the hell out of me in I, Robot — but he has maybe the best reactive comic timing I have ever seen, and in movies like this, he is gold. He delivers when called upon to participate in the script’s many set pieces of verbal and physical comedy (he is particularly sharp when paired with James), but he also makes its sappier moments decidedly palatable, keeping the sweetness from turning into treacle. The incessant saintliness of the character keeps Smith from fleshing out Hitch into a full-fledged human being, but he gives him just enough dimension for us to tolerate him on screen for a hefty 115 minutes.
As I’ve hinted, Hitch derails a bit in its final minutes, too intent on making everything not just okay, but unspeakably terrific. Perhaps that was inevitable considering that the film is essentially a fairy tale from beginning to end, and has no delusions about this. But though its themes are facile and mass-produced when they even exist, the characters remain engaging, and the jokes very funny: I never thought I would laugh so hard at the sight of a toppling vase. Most importantly, though, Hitch managed to cheer me up that night, and for that I must label it a must-see.