Hitch (5/10)

by Tony Medley

When a movie starts out with people talking with “smart” dialogue, throwing quips “clever” repartee to and fro, I figure I’m in for a long evening. Hitch starts badly, proceeds with a story as derivative as any you’ve ever seen, and ends worse. The middle is squirmy but has some good points, not the least of which is Will Smith, who is one of the better actors in Hollywood. Unfortunately, he’s been sometimes stuck with rotten material, like “Men in Black II.”

Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Smith) is a love therapist, that is, a guy who tells other guys how to get along with women. His big task is to get shy, fumbling accountant Albert Brennaman (Kevin James, from TV’s “The King of Queens”) together with a Christina Onassis-type rich girl, Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Then Hitch falls for gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes).

This is as formulaic a comedy as humanly possible. If you’ve seen this story once, you’ve seen it a million times. Not surprisingly it’s directed by Andy Tennant, who was responsible for 2002’s horrible “Sweet Home Alabama,” that Reese Witherspoon rushed out to try to capitalize on her surprise 2001 hit, “Legally Blonde.” The hackneyed story is by Kevin Bisch, who is making his screenwriting debut, if not swan song.

Smith is charming and winning in his role as the man teaching other men how to approach women. James takes weak material and does the best with it as the bumbling accountant. Not much is asked of Valletta, but she is beautiful and fulfills what little is required of her. The one who really dropped the ball for me was Mendes. True, she doesn’t have great material, but she doesn’t do much with it and she’s just not beautiful enough to carry the role of a romantic interest who is desired by lots of men. Adding to the good performances by Smith, James, and Valletta, however, is Adam Arkin , who is exceptionally good as Max Trundle, Sara’s tough, but understanding, editor.

But there’s a bigger problem with this movie than poor direction and a derivative script. Hitch gets hit with a food allergy and starts swelling. This can be fatal quickly. All you have to do is get a hive in your trachea and you’re toast. If you are aware you’re having an allergic reaction, you should rush to the emergency room. What do Bisch and Tennant have Hitch do? He goes to a drug store, buys a bottle of Benadryl and guzzles it, never even thinking about a hospital. Here’s what the drug maker has to say about an overdose of Benadryl, “Overdosage may cause hallucinations, convulsions, or death.” So Bisch and Tennant are putting in a major movie with a major star the following information. First, a food allergy is not something to be concerned about. If you get it, just guzzle Benadryl and you’ll be OK. Second, Benadryl is not toxic, so you can take as much of it as you want. After seeing “Sweet Home Alabama,” I was not impressed with Tennant’s talent. Now I’m not impressed with his intelligence or his integrity. Filmmakers have a responsibility to not spread erroneous information that people might believe and could cause harm. Tennant and Bisch abrogated this responsibility. I can conceive of a scene where he’s hit with the allergy, quickly buys some Bendryl and is rushed to the hospital to save his life. It could have had all the comedy with a good message.

There are some good scenes and Smith, James, Cole, and Arkin do their best to hold up the weak material and trite story. Even though it’s far too long, almost two hours, many will find this flawed, bromidic, lightweight film entertaining. For me, it flunked the watch test. After the sophomoric start, the ending drags on for what seems close to eternity. Tennant and Bisch should pay eternal homage to Will Smith whose charm and talent save this from terminal derivativity.

February 7, 2005

The End