U.S. Release Date: February 11, 2005
Distributor: Sony / Columbia
Director: Andy Tennant
Producer: James Lassiter, Will Smith, Michael Tadross (executive)
Composer: George Fenton
Cast: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Paula Patton
Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (language and some strong sexual references)

Slick Comedy Hooks Laughs, Not Much Else
by Scott Holleran

Will Smith's romantic comedy Hitch is a breezy, fleeting affair. Tricked out with a trendy New York sensibility, a pop soundtrack and one egregious example of product placement, director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama) sets a brisk pace, playing broad for laughs—a bit of Woody Allen neurotic here, a dash of Neil Simon sentimentality there. It's as fulfilling as an order of Chinese takeout.

Hitch rates relatively low on the gross-out scale, though a scene in which Smith's hip dating consultant has an allergic reaction is a nod to the potty joke crowd, and the movie is nothing if not about pleasing the pack. Written by a former New York Times Style writer, who apparently attended the Jayson Blair school of ethics, the script offers spurts of flip singles humor, not lessons in romantic love.

Using makeovers, come-ons and schemes, Smith's nicknamed title character counsels men on dating. One night, Eva Mendes' curvy dish encounters smooth-talker Smith, and he puts his own advice to the test, with predictable results. It's a match. She is a cynical gossip columnist, equally willing to use her credentials to settle a personal vendetta as she is to invoke her love life to get a story. When one of Hitch's clients hooks a celebrity who is the target of Mendes' tabloid, careers collide. The other couple—a fat accountant and a stick-thin heiress—are less believable yet more interesting.

The pair, played by good sports Kevin James and Amber Valletta, is pure nerd fantasy. After Smith's tutorial—which entails tips, manipulation and concealing one's real self—the blonde is drawn to the wide-bodied geek because he exercises independent judgment about her money, which she wants to invest in a friend's business venture.

Nothing comes of his and her interest in the enterprise, which is replaced by their flaws as the reason for their attraction. Still, the odd couple is more fun than Hitch and his honey (Mendes), who mug for the camera with mannerisms and the type of stagy dialog one might hear over a drink before last call. After a date, Mendes purrs to Smith: "Give me a ring sometime." She adds: "I mean on the phone." Such repartee might work with a classier couple but not with these two. She's a street-smart hussy with an expense account, and he's an uptown hustler with a deluxe apartment. Nice houses—nobody's home.

Hitch has rules, such as insisting that each client be in love with a woman (which means guys have to know they're in love before the first date). Challenges of being single—how to kiss a girl, how clothes and body language provide clues—are entertaining, and Smith's scenes with the accountant are the funniest. Smith turns it down a notch, making a pleasant, if unremarkable, leading comedy debut.

As the plots converge and climax, the rest of Hitch tapers off with an upbeat finish. The snappy tone remains intact and subplots are simply abandoned. Michael Rapaport as Smith's best friend lasts one scene. There are as many diversions as there are contradictions in Smith's haphazard philosophy. Mendes' best friend (Julie Ann Emery) is the movie's most consistent, and appealing, character, and Jeffrey Donovan as a misogynist is sufficiently smarmy in a key role.

Because Hitch pitches human error, not shared values, as the basis for a love connection—trivializing romantic love with the notion that it's random and unknowable—this mildly clever take on the games people play is like thumbing through Uncle Pete's little black book. It shows a knack for what it takes to be single, with not a clue for what it takes to be a sweetheart.

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Intolerable Cruelty
Intolerably Confused
Failure to Launch
More Stupid Pet Tricks
50 First Dates
49 Dates Too Many
Mr. Deeds
Half Stupid, Half Sweet
Sweet Home Alabama
Dixie Flick