Hitch (Director: Andy Tennant)
Tennant is a veteran of TV, where his notable work came in on a couple of episodes of "The Wonder Years," "Parker Louis Can't Lose," and "The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.," among others. His films include the 2002 hit Sweet Home Alabama, the good Fools Rush In, followed by back-to-back misfires in Ever After and Anna and the King.
There are many styles of romantic comedy. The traditional one is where the man and woman hate each other at first and then fall in love anyway. There's also plenty of love-based-on-lies tales. Another subgenre is the how-to romantic comedy, like How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days, a terrible movie, but the setup of such a movie includes some plan, which goes horribly wrong. It's sort of the Roxanne (famously known as "Cyrano de Bergerac") model, where the person who seemingly knows a lot about love is terrible at it when it comes to their own romances. Alfie sort of followed that structure.
This is a good romantic comedy, following said model, just in time for loads of Valentine's Day cash. Will Smith plays Alex Hitchens, a man who secretly works as a "Date Doctor," helping men who can't otherwise find dates to find them. His work leads to helping out the fumbling Albert (Kevin James), who is looking for love from celebrity businesswoman Allegra Cole (Amber Valetta), who just happens to be a tabloid target of late, one that gossip reporter Sara (Eva Mendes) is highly interested in. Of course, Sara and Alex hook up, and Sara has no idea what Alex really does.
The whole setup is to illustrate Alex' imperfection in personal love, even though he seems to have all the answers when it comes to other guys, to show that love isn't planned and perfect. It doesn't help that Sara starts wondering who the Date Doctor is and hopes to get a story. The sort of nasty thread the movie has involves Sara's friend Casey (Crossville native Julie Ann Emery), who has just met a man named Vance (Jeffrey Donovan), who has sought out Hitch's advice only to be turned down when Hitch realizes the man just craves the booty. Since Sara ends up sleeping with the man, and it was clearly not a romantic evening, the Date Doctor becomes pure fodder for man-hating once Sara incorrectly connects the dots.
Will Smith is in 100% likeable mode here, a perfectly tailored character for his usual confident, outgoing self. He has many scenes obviously written for him here, for crowd-pleasing fun. I didn't have a problem with those cheap little tricks that the filmmakers put in for word-of-mouth. What I did have a problem with was the whole inevitable breakup-to-makeup section of the movie, where it tries for a Jerry Maguire-esque (a movie that gets shown in this film with its archetypal "You had me at hello," line--By the way, some trivia--Will Smith did the "You had me at hello" line in Shark Tale, which also voice-starred Renee Zellweger) ending sort of sinks the film under the weight of just trying too hard to get those perfect love story moments. The filmmakers didn't follow their own advice when they constructed these scenes.
However, who am I to quibble? Couples out on V-Day looking for some romantic fun are going to love every bit of it, no matter what atrocities the film actually makes (once some of those couples break up, they'll be able to see those flaws). But I'm not trying to steer anyone away from it. It really is engaging for the most part, and I found myself smiling through an hour and a half. It's the last thirty minutes that need a little work.
Everyone is very good here, and Kevin James makes a great clumsy romantic, holding his own with the star power of Smith. I really liked Eva Mendes here, too. The hispanic Cindy Crawford (to me, anyway, which is a very good thing--Eva Mendes is hot, hot, hot) pulls off an engaging performance, as does Amber Valetta in her limited role. The movie does make some dilemmas in screen time for certain people, as James falls off the screen for a good long while, and Michael Rapaport plays a friend of Hitch who completely disappears after his one scene is over. Another thing I liked was the avoidance of certain cliches. It would have been easy, in one scene, to have Albert meet Allegra at the office with no pants on, but they steered away from it (thank goodness). They also could have had a "wrestling match" between Hitch and Albert become a walk-in-at-the-wrong-time gay joke, which we are spared.
Just like 50 First Dates last year, a fine Valentine's film.