Directed by Andy Tennant. USA. 2005.

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Will Smith is Alex Hitchens, or Alex Hitchens is Will Smith, either way they sure do look alike.  Alex is a date doctor, an urban myth in the city of New York, who creates opportunities for men to gain contact with the women they desire.  

Hitchens wants to be known as Hitch, this shortening of his name to something more informal is coupled with his glances and talks directly to the camera where he tells us the basic principles; ‘No matter who.  No matter what. No matter how.’  The film does share some basic principles of its own with Alfie, especially the new Jude Law version.  The effortless use of style in terms of costume, every place is exclusive and all the people in the film are beautiful.  While the Alfie character whether played by Caine or Jude Law, is a bit of a scoundrel; Hitch is a man who has been hurt before and uses that as his inspiration to make sure no man goes through what he did.

Hitch calls himself a consultant rather than a 21st century matchmaker on a par with Emma in the Jane Austen novel.  Hitch talks to the men but as the film shows, once they are on the date the rest is down to them, he can only help with the first date.  The second date is down to the man.  ‘She’s going with you.  She could have said no.  She said yes.  The important thing to do is not mess it up’. 

This is the Will Smith show, he does what we have seen before on his television series, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but that was in the early 1990s and due to a career path which has veered into blockbuster action comedy.  But he has never had the chance to show off his natural ability for comedy as this film does.  Maybe Bad Boys 2 was the last straw.  Smith jumps around, is cool plays it smooth when it is needed but at times tends to struggle when it comes to the speeches that others have no problem with it, it is slightly ironic that in one scene we see Sara Milas (Eve Mendes, Hitch’s love interest) crying at the end of the scene of Jerry Maguire where Renee Zellwegger’s character says the immortal line: ‘You had me at hello’.  The line comes after a speech by Tom Cruise which is perfectly timed.  It is no wonder when Smith delivers his speeches, Mendes does not so much cry but cry at her character’s own embarrassment at not trusting Hitch.  The speech smacks of someone searching for a cheer rather than the sincerity it necessitates.

Hitch/Smith is ably supported by Kevin James, the star of US sitcom King of Queens, who plays Albert Brenneman who seeks the affection of Allegra Cole (Amber Valetta), a multi-millionaire.  James has the physicality of John Belushi and the emotional reach of John Candy.  His one good scene he says, ‘Do you know what’s it like to not wake up with the love of your life, knowing she’ll never want you but still wanting her to have complete happiness?’  The sincerity is so apparent it makes you believe in the character’s plight.

Mendes plays Sara the gossip columnist who has no relationship because of her blossoming career but falls for Hitch despite his ineptness on their first date; he kicks her in the head as he gets off a jet-ski (as always in rom-com the master struggles to work his magic) and on a visit to Ellis Island he unfortunately reminds her of a family ancestor who came to America, the unfortunate thing being he was the ‘Butcher of Kadiz’.  Mendes plays her role well, displaying the opposition a modern woman must balance the need for respect in the workplace (her entire workspace is made up of those who want respect: black and gay, woman and fat, white and geek) and the need for a love in the life, but is wary to let love in.  

The only fault that the film has is that Hitch has no rival to work against in the pursuit of Sara’s affection.  All romantic comedies work on this method, one girl two guys, and trouble abounds.  It has been the hallmark of rom-com for decades.  It is also apparent in the work of the director, Andy Tennant.  In Fools Rush In (Tennant, US, 1997), Matthew Perry marries Selma Hayek who was going out with a Mexican boyfriend at the time; this resistance between white WASP and Hispanic Latino is looked at but played for awkward laughs and dismissed when a child comes into the film.  In Sweet Home Alabama (Tennant, US, 2002), the whole film is built around the premise that Reese Witherspoon must choose between the New York socialite she is engaged to and the Southern redneck blue collar sweetheart she is still married to.

The film does the job well of stating that this is a romantic film before a film about sex, love comes first.  As love is so important the pursuit of sex is dismissed or hated, this hate figure comes in the form of Vance (say it slowly it might be Vain), who hires Hitch in the help of getting a girl.  As he talks he makes you believe he might be in love, ‘Colours are dull, food has lost its taste.  I’ve never met a girl like her.  And I’m thinking, God I wish I could bang her.’  Now the use of the word ‘bang’ instead of the more common ‘f***’ is somewhat of a shock and it made me laugh which I hope was the reaction the film-makers wanted.  We have been given all this preaching of love and relationship and then to have this cynical character come and same the word ‘bang’ in reference to sex , serves more as an onomatopoeic joke rather than one of shock.  But because it is Vance who says it, sex is linked to greed or a commodity you can have and then throw away, is it any wonder that Vance works on Wall Street.
In the end you know what happens.  Albert and Allegra, the relationship which smacks expectancy in the face, get married and everybody in the film is invited for a dance at the end.  While the married couple wear the suitable uniform, Hitch and Sara wear a nice suit and dress respectively.  Usually in rom-com it would be Hitch’s wedding we see at the conclusion, but maybe rom-com is going through an evolutionary change where weddings are not the natural conclusion, this has been happening for sometime: My Best Friend’s Wedding is the obvious example, where the heroine gets nothing but her friendship.  

Maybe this is symptomatic of American cinema, you have Will Smith a huge movie star falling in love with a Latino actress.  Is America still not ready to see a black man kiss a white woman in New York?  Alternatively any relationship that bridges the racial minority gap is fine.  For Will Smith’s future career in romantic comedy it will be far less of a hitch and a flat out problem.

Jamie Garwood
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