Directed by Andy Tennant
Buddy Movies Are from Mars… Romantic Comedies Are from Venus. When I saw the trailer for Hitch, I realized that a fundamental conflict must be resolved: the clash of the dictates of two very different genres. Hitch is promoted as both a romantic comedy (primarily for women) and as a male-buddy movie (for the guys.) Those genres conflict in several ways -- most sharply in the type of male characters who are permitted to be presented in a favorable light. Sorry guys, but the other side won this round handily – the main characters in Hitch are by-the-numbers, formulaic, romantic comedy men. That’s not to say that the movie isn’t good at what it does – it’s way above average as a rom-com – most notably, big-screen newcomer Kevin James does a star-turn as the klutzy, overweight, tax accountant, Albert, who aspires to date an impossibly beautiful heiress (real-life supermodel Amber Valletta.) I didn’t care too much for how the part was written – way, way, way too much slapstick – but his talent at physical comedy clearly stood out. I’ll be looking for his involvement in future projects. The other half of our pair of buddies is Albert’s polar opposite, Hitch (Will Smith at his smoothest, coolest.)
Hitch -- for a fee -- trains Albert to “swing for the fence”, to defy gravity, to become a real player in his conquest of Allegra (the heiress.) The betrayal of the male buddy movie genre comes in the idealization of Hitch – he is so pure of heart the he won’t accept clients unless their intentions are romantically perfect. In other words, here is a paid consultant – but really a “buddy” for the purposes of this movie -- who will only help out his friend/client if that guy is truly in love with the woman he wants to date. When the filmmakers dropped that on me it was a when-did-I-die moment – but I shouldn’t have been surprised since something had to give – rom-coms demand idealized men (no dating advice for guys who just want to go out and have a good time with a hot chick) while the buddy genre would welcome a savvy, uber-cool, mentor paired up with an inept goof ball.
I can’t help but compare Hitch to its current competition in the rom-com arena, The Wedding Date. No comparison – in both films, the male lead is a professional smoothie – although in Wedding Date he’s more of a gigolo/male escort – but Will Smith’s date consultant blows away Dermot Mulroney’s escort. I have to give Wedding Date a little credit for not laying on quite so much slapstick – in Hitch it’s virtually non-stop. Wedding Date also lacks a single memorable performance comparable to Kevin James’s Albert.
The female lead in Hitch is a gossip columnist, Sara (Eva Mendes), who, predictably, resists Hitch’s advances at first, gives in and falls for him (he is an idealized man after all), then has the obligatory falling out after she finds out what he does for a living. But we know that all will be cute and sweet at the end – again obligatory for a rom-com – complete with the clichéd last scene – a wedding – how sweet.
A tremendous opportunity was blown in the way “Sara” was written. They should have made the gossip writer crafty, tough and manipulative – I couldn’t buy into the character as written – for a New York gossip columnist to be so uniformly easy going and sweet – I wanted more edgy, two-faced and conniving. Eva Mendes is a very talented actress – she would have been great if the writers had given her a more interesting part to work with – and the kind of character I’m talking about wouldn’t alienate the female audience – it would be fine in a rom-com -- unlike the more believable date consultant that I would have preferred – an edgy guy would be a rom-com deal-killer. It’s all right for female characters to be somewhat manipulative but rom-com men can’t do that without being the bad guy.
It would have been a lot of fun to see Hitch and Sara both portrayed as clever, scheming people who make their living by manipulating people in quasi-social situations. Sara could float around NYC’s various social scenes playing up to people to get bits for her column while Hitch could inhabit the same scene as the jedi-master-for-hire helping the socially inept score with the hotties. They could fall for each other because they have a lot in common, then get angry when they expect the other to be uncharacteristically straight forward. They get over that when they realize their hypocrisy – their was plenty of deception on both sides – they are two peas in a pod. This is silly commentary though, the movie did $43 million in its opening weekend – a record for a romantic comedy – and here I am trying to “fix” it.
Two parallel plots developed in Hitch -- Hitch & Sara and Albert & Allegra (with Hitch coaching Albert) – the later plot, though not very believable, was more interesting. Kevin James did very well as the flabby everyman who falls head-over-heals for the unattainable heiress while Amber Valletta seemed a little stiff -- but that worked, giving her an aloof demeanor.
I don’t know why, but rom-coms rarely feature impressive cinematography, production design, and costuming (unless they’re period pieces.) The one really nice looking scene in Hitch was shot on Ellis Island, with both exteriors and shots inside the visitors’ center. There is also a jet-ski scene which could have been a real visual treat – potentially very photogenic, with the Manhattan skyline in the background – but is just didn’t amount to much. Since the film is not highly visual, it won’t lose much if seen on DVD rather that the theater. Also, in case you can’t tell, I’m not much of a fan of the rom-com genre. If you are, by all means see Hitch.
Photographs are copyright Columbia Pictures.
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