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Hitch (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 11 February 2005
Any movie that has the good sense to open with Sam Cooke’s grin-inducing “(What a) Wonderful World” (that’s the “Don’t know much about history” song, not to be confused with Louis Armstrong’s “I see skies of blue, trees of green” ballad) is off to a good start. A lot of the time, the new romantic comedy “Hitch” coasts on this sort of good feeling, gently getting us to grin, but if it doesn’t often soar to comedic heights, it never dips below a certain comfort level, either. It is, in a word, pleasant.

Will Smith plays the title character, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, a Manhattan dating consultant known as “the love doctor,” so secretive that he’s widely assumed to be an urban myth. His current big project is coaching shy accountant Albert (Kevin James) in wooing seemingly unattainable heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Meanwhile, Hitch is smitten with Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a beautiful woman he sees in a bar. Smooth, witty and persistent, Hitch manages to get the romantically cynical Sara to agree to go out with him. The date is something of a fiasco, but Sara is taken enough with Hitch to go for a second round, albeit with an ulterior motive. Hitch, like the audience, is aware that Sara is a gossip columnist for a major newspaper. What he doesn’t realize – rather naively, given the range of knowledge his specialized job calls for – is that Sara is professionally interested in writing about Allegra and therefore starting to look into the new man in Allegra’s life. It doesn’t take Allegra long to learn there’s a connection between Albert and Hitch – but what is it?

Writer Kevin Bisch has crafted one of those scripts in which people (especially women) leap to conclusions instead of asking specific questions, something that on the one hand dates back at least to Shakespeare comedies and on the other becomes annoying, since we know the plot will come to an end the moment everybody is in possession of all the facts. Then again, the dialogue is often clever and the characters are highly appealing, especially Smith. “Hitch” never for a moment looks at the darker possibilities of its hero’s profession (what if he was enlisted by an actual stalker?), but within its upbeat world, there’s something sweet and amusing about seeing a smooth operator with a heart go about his business. Director Andy Tennant creates a nice sense of anticipation – we always get a feeling that something is about to happen and sometimes he and Bisch surprise us – the audience is as startled as the characters by some of the events on Hitch and Sara’s dates.

The filmmakers wisely use music almost continuously throughout the film. Sometimes we question their choices – John Legend’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” is so off that it’s distracting – but sometimes they’re right on the money. The Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy,” with its big, portentious intro, is just the thing for the hook-up of two people who are destined to, well, see the song title. Images are clear and attractive and the sound quality is good, though there are no major effects to particularly challenge a home system when the movie makes it to DVD.

We like Hitch because even though we know he’s thought long and hard about what he’s doing, in a curious way, he’s very open about it. It helps that he’s also sincerely interested in dating the lovely Sara, not just scoring, so his intentions aren’t crass. The role allows Smith to turn on his considerable good guy wattage and intelligence in the service of a character whose company we enjoy. Mendes is gorgeous and engaging, so much so that we can almost overlook the fact that she’s somewhat less ethical than Hitch. Valletta has the good sport daffiness of Cameron Diaz in the “Charlie’s Angels” movies and James as the lovelorn nebbish is quite likable.

“Hitch” is formulaic but likeable, a good example of its genre, elevated by Smith’s truly great leading man.

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