Dating's rough, and the only place that it's worse than real life is in the movies, where encounters not only go spectacularly wrong but the most unlikely coincidences throw even budding true love into disarray. Of course, in the movies, unlike life, if you and your intended can make it through the first calamity-plagued 85 minutes, everything works out just swell!
In that tradition comes Andy Tennant's romantic comedy Hitch, which not only adheres to the standard episodes of amusingly troubled dating, but also purports to offer useful advice, specifically to the men in the audience. Its titular character is Alex Hitchens (Will Smith), a "date doctor" who steers hapless men through their first three dates with their chosen dream girls. Hitch is a smooth facilitator, mixing Google research skills with practical tips ("actually listen to what she is saying"), pep talks and a dash of benign subterfuge (for one wannabe Romeo, he helps stage a dachshund rescue).
Hitch's coaching enables the pudgy, meek Arthur (Kevin James) to woo a gorgeous heiress (Amber Valletta), and this plotline soon intersects with Hitch's own romantic travails. Hitch doesn't date; he sees too much of the trouble and is nursing a busted heart from way back. Naturally he'll fall for Sara (Eva Mendes), a sassy gossip columnist who also eschews the pick-up scene. Hitch and Sara go on a series of non-dates -- with disastrous consequences. Luckily, in romantic comedies, comically bad dates nudge open the door for true love.
A fetchingly curvy Mendes (she's no walking stick like former model Valletta) displays an aptitude for this sort of light comedy. Smith, naturally, trades on his mugging charm; he's likable and believable in a tailor-made role. James, of TV's King of Queens, stays true to his established comic shlub role. His well-executed physical routines generate the film's biggest laughs. In one nice piece of pantomime, he makes a full-scale disaster out of simply eating a sandwich.
Hitch is a worthy addition to the rom-com library, and its dating-hurts-for-men-too angle is a smart touch to keep both sexes in the theater sympathetic. It concludes in fantasy, as it must, but also offers reasonable vicarious hope for all the dating bumblers out there by reinforcing courtesy, good humor and perseverance (available to all, not just handsome movie stars!).
The film slows in its final reel, which grows heavy with not-funny misunderstandings, break-ups and tediously articulated lessons about finding one's heart. But Tennant wisely ends his film with a bit of tacked-on physical comedy that had the audience still laughing in the parking lot. Men and women chuckling together: I predict a successful date movie.