Hitch (2005) — A rare male-centered romantic comedy

“I’m a guy. Since when do we get anything right the first time?”

Lissa’s rating: What scares me is that I’ve seen guys I know and love do the dance moves depicted here. And like the character Alfred, they think it’s cool. There really needs to be a support group for this.

Lissa’s review: I had no real intention of reviewing Hitch. Duckie and I watched it and we both really enjoyed it, but it seemed like it was pretty simple, straightforward, and while it was a good time, it was nothing to write home about.

Then I saw a few other movies this summer, and I’ve since changed my mind.

As I said, at first I didn’t really feel like reviewing Hitch. I mean, it’s kind of your standard romantic comedy in many ways. Boy meets girl in weird circumstances. Boy is hiding something, but elaborate dates ensue and girl starts falling for boy. Girl discovers boy’s secret. “You LIED to me???” is shouted. Girl eventually realizes it was all a silly misunderstanding and boy was wonderful all along and love ensues and flower petals shower down and all that. Plus there’s a subplot where geeky guy likes hot girl and wins the day.

The big secret is one we’re in on from the beginning — Hitch (Will Smith, who I love) is The Date Doctor. Naturally, he has ethics and won’t work to get guys in the sack with girls, just into relationships. And while there’s a cynical voice in my head saying “money talks,” there’s also my brother-in-law.

Duckie has two brothers. One managed to get snatched up by a fantastic woman who didn’t let him go, and is married. The other is single. If you know him, you sort of wonder why. He’s a fantastic guy, very nice, very sweet, and very thoughtful. Strong sense of family, totally into commitment, not a sex god but not hideous, employed and doesn’t live with Mom and Dad… total marriage material, right? But if you know him, you also know he’s sort of sweetly clueless and lacks minor social niceties that don’t really mean much, but make a first impression. This is totally the kind of guy that Hitch specializes in, and he doesn’t so much give them makeovers as give them openings.

There’s no real manipulation here. What Hitch does is teach a guy how to put his best foot forward. All those little things that can be a turn-off, like bad table manners or a dorky haircut or not knowing how to talk to a woman at first… those are what Hitch focuses on. Basically, it’s giving geeks a chance. True, he’s part private detective, but his powers are always used for good instead of evil. And you know, it wouldn’t shock me at all if there are people out there that do this for a living. If there aren’t, there should be. They’d make a killing.

Of course, however, when the big reveal comes, Hitch’s love interest Sara (Eva Mendes) is shocked and appalled at her boyfriend’s career choice. Despite being a gossip columnist and KNOWING how much bull is out there, she doesn’t even stop to investigate. She just jumps straight to the conclusion that he’s one step from a serial rapist. Standard fare, right?

Actually, it’s not. I mean, yes, the plot is, and you could see the ending coming from the first time you watched the trailer. But you know what? There is something different about Hitch, and it took me a while to realize what it is. But it’s this:

Hitch is a male-centered romantic comedy.

It’s true. The main focus is on Will Smith and Kevin James, who carries the dorky-guy Albert subplot. The girls are actually pretty forgettable in this. Eva Mendes is pretty enough and sassy and all that, but I couldn’t even remember her character’s name a few weeks later and had to check IMDb. And Amber Valletta, looking very much like Cameron Diaz, plays Allegra Cole sweetly, but again, nothing extraordinary. We know nothing about the girls — or at least, nothing much. We know far more about the two guys, and that’s actually a nice change. I’ve seen several complaints about the man being flat in romantic comedies (and they’re so often accurate), but here, it’s the man that’s the actual character. The woman serves as the motivator. (But not offensively so, mind you.)

It helps that it’s Will Smith carrying the lead role. Now, I don’t pay tons of attention to the gossip columns myself, but from everything I’ve heard, I really, really like Will Smith. First, he’s from my adopted hometown of Philadelphia. That’s cool. He’s got a great sense of humor. He did “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Nightmare on My Street”, and then actually made the crossover to successful actor. He’s funny, but he’s done a phenomenal job with serious roles as well. He’s truly smart — he turned down a scholarship at M.I.T., for crying out loud. He’s very good looking, but doesn’t seem to be hung up on that. But more than that, he seems like a truly decent human being. I rarely hear about him partying or checking into rehab or drinking heavily or insulting anyone. But he really, really won me over when he left the Oscars early (before his own category was announced) because his child had been taken to the hospital with an ear infection. I mean, I know he wasn’t actually going to win Best Actor that year (2002, for Ali), but still. That just showed class and the kind of parental dedication that you’d expect of most normal people, but doesn’t seem to be required for celebrities.

But my like of Will Smith as a person aside, I really like him as an actor and comedian. Aside from the fact he’s funny, a lot of his humor doesn’t depend on gross-out stunts, sex, or profanity. And that’s definitely the case here. Hitch is a romantic comedy, not a sex romp, and a lot of the laughs have little to do with sex. But the other thing that impresses me is that a lot of the laughs have little to nothing to do with Will Smith.

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I’ve been told King of Queens is a great show. And after seeing Kevin James in action, I’d believe it. He is a funny, funny man, and it’s his performance as Albert that really takes this and makes it great. I admit, it almost seems like the role of Albert was written for Albert Brooks (I think that’s who I mean), but Kevin James was a great fit. The scene where he demonstrates his dancing skill is the second funniest dancing scene I’ve ever seen in a movie (it’s going to take a LOT to beat out Kevin Kline in In and Out). But what really makes that scene is that Will Smith lets him take the spotlight. Smith recognizes that, just because he has a longer career history, that doesn’t mean he’s the only funny guy in the room. And instead of just letting Kevin take the spotlight, he hands it over willingly, and the movie is much stronger for that. (And incidentally, Albert’s side plot is just really, really sweet, even as it’s hysterical.)

Hitch is not a perfect movie. Not by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it IS a romantic comedy, and it does fall into the same traps that so many romantic comedies fall into. As I mentioned before, we have the obligatory “you LIED to me?” twist, which is just really annoying because it is soooo clichéd. I mean, we’ve seen this part of the plot played out over and over and over. I felt like we could have skipped it and gotten around the fact that Hitch’s career choice isn’t necessarily conventional in another way (like the woman having enough brains to actually understand what he did). I’ll give the writers some grudging points for actually giving Sara something of a reason to be upset and jump the gun, but it really wasn’t enough. And, of course, we have the elaborate date that would require more money and time than the average person has to set up. And honestly? Hitch could have been a bit shorter, closer to the hour and a half mark as opposed to the two hour mark.

However, if you’re willing to accept the flaws of romantic comedies (which seem inescapable in the genre), it’s one of the better offerings these days. Definitely rent it and get a good laugh!

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