Okay ... so, it's a given that we all know exactly how things are going to pan out. Director Andy Tennant is taking no risks whatsoever. He's got the upbeat, by-the-numbers rom-com bible in his hands and he's playing this gig with all the conviction of a loyal studio lapdog. He knows what is expected of him and he knows how easily satisfied his target audience is going to be, having been spoon-fed this sanitised banality far too often. Likewise, the situations he has created all have that overly familiar feel to them - from bizarre first dates (Sunday morning jet-skis, anyone?) to comic dance routines - and the characters are contemporary rom-com staples. But, it's a measure of how immensely charismatic Will Smith is that your interest can be sustained all the way through to the well-signposted climax. He's smart, savvy, connected and cool. The Alfie-style intro-to-camera might be too neat a nudge into his world though and only brings the superficiality of the plot to the fore with an all-too-unfortunate immediacy and that he will inevitably discover a vulnerable side in his own personal crusade to capture the heart of the exotic Sara may be another obvious stepping stone, but it is also there to provide anxious singletons, the world over, a moment or two of life-affirmation. Perhaps even more so than the corny chat-up lines and body language lessons he teaches with such smug glibness. Without the benefit of his trademark charm leading the way, though, this otherwise dull and pretentious tale of meeting the ideal mate would simply collapse under the weight of its own falsehoods. The men are awkward geeks and the women know it. Hitch knows it too and exploits it a damn sight more than they do. Though, overall, he may be the biggest geek of all.
The ladies of the piece could easily fall into the typical Hollywood trap of being the clichéd example of self-aware, career-minded modern women, and it is to their credit that Eva Mendes and Amber Valletta acquit themselves with enough style and character to make themselves fallible, yet believably independent. Mendes manages to juggle playful insecurity with sassy dominance, her journo-vulture undergoing a crisis of conscience when Hitch betrays his true work-ethic during a speed-dating trip. It may prove to be a woefully stereotypical character arc, but she nevertheless carries it off with surprisingly wince-free ease. She exudes a confidence that belies such slight foundation, making the most of her war of wills with the usually unflappable Smith.
“No, that's you being a lot of a bit of something ... you don't need to ever be again.”
Albert is the main comedic attraction in the proceedings thanks to a wonderfully assured and goofy everyman performance from James, as the smitten loser whose every botched attempt to carry out his guide's instructions ironically takes him deeper and deeper into his true love's heart. The over-amped dance routine does not contain anywhere near enough slapstick, however. The strange thing is it is this storyline that is the more interesting and rewarding. The Hitch/Sara set-up is so glaringly obvious from the get-go that you often wish they would just get out of the way and let the others get their act together. A few more scenarios with Albert and the luscious Allegra would have aided the movie considerably.
I've got to admit that I wasn't really looking forward to this film. I like Will Smith as a screen-persona, but the very fact that he is in it removes all edge, daring or culture-critique from a screenplay that could have happily played havoc with male/female desires and relationships, and actually told us something important about our vulnerable human condition. But apart from one admittedly enjoyable, yet heavy-handed, scene involving a guy who wants to use the love doctor for one decisive purpose alone, the script from Kevin Bisch plays the whole thing far too safely, placing the story quite emphatically in the cosy land of powder-puff fantasy. Neither laugh-out-loud funny nor irredeemably tedious, Hitch gets by on star power from a coasting Smith who glides through it all in the knowledge that he can carry off material this slight with both hands tied behind his back and his eyes closed.
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