Saturday, February 12, 2005

Hitch (2005)

Directed By: Andy Tennant
Written By: Kevin Bisch
Starring: Will Smith, Kevin James, Eva Mendes, and Amber Valletta
Synopsis: A "date doctor" (Smith) helps incompetent young Lotharios find their romantic feet. Ironically but predictably, when he finds the girl of his dreams, he sucks at romance himself. And I mean totally sucks.

This past week, I attended a seminar on screenwriting that went over the basic three-act structure that essentially every movie is built on. There is an exposition, then the first plot point happens which throws our hero intractably into the conflict. He meets many difficulties until plot point number two, in which all his plans have come to nothing, and there seems to be no hope for happiness. Then, the third act brings the climax, and ultimately, the resolution. On some movies, the structure is more obvious, on others it isn't as clear, but generally, you can trace out these points on all movies. As a frame of reference, the second act is usually the strongest and the third act the weakest.

I bring this up because Hitch is such a clear example of how obviously the three-act structure can sometimes be seen, and how weak a third act can be. You see, Hitch is an excellent concept: a "date doctor" named Alex "Hitch" Hitchens (Smith) teaches incompetent men how to stumble their way through the first few awkward dates without striking out. A truly incompetent prospect, Albert Brennamen (James), is in love with famous socialite Allegra Cole (Valletta), and enlists Hitch to help him find his way into her heart. In the meantime, Hitch is having trouble (obvious plot point number one) on his own romantic front, having fallen for the beautiful and successful Sara (Mendes), a gossip columnist who is incredibly dedicated to her work. The set-up is a touch predictable, but most people would agree it certainly has the potential to become an excellent popcorn film. But it doesn't happen.

Which isn't to say that Hitch is a bad film. For much of the movie, it's a solid example of a romantic comedy with a touch of depth. Smith is at his most laid-back, funny and charming, and James is excellent foil as the incompetent loser who finds his feet under Smith's supervision. Mendes is at the top of her game, which means that she's merely adequate to the role. And for the first hour and half, I bought it whole-heartedly - I laughed, I got involved in the story, I even picked up some tips on women. Then came obvious plot point number two.

I won't reveal the ending, even though if I did so, when you eventually see the movie, you won't have to watch it, and you'll have a fairly positive impression of Hitch. You can leave at the end of the second act, right at the point when the writer, who must think you've never seen a romantic comedy, clearly wants you to wonder, "are they ever gonna end up together?" Because from then on in, it's awful. It's some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard. You know the old Bette Midler tune, "Wind Beneath My Wings?" The dramatic last section of dialogue seems to be Smith and Mendes reciting lines of it back and forth to each other. I can't tell you how miserable it was for me to watch every bit of energy that the movie had swirl down the tubes.

Therefore, I cannot recommend Hitch to you. I'm sure you understand. It's a noble effort, and a clever idea, but as much as I love Will Smith and all his "let this black man show you white boys how to be cool" swagger, it's just not worth the trip. Save your money and go see one of those Oscar-nominated films like Hotel Rwanda and Million Dollar Baby before they leave theatres. By the time you get back, Hitch might already be on cable.

Rating: I give you one and a half stars for the first act, two stars for the second act, minus one star for the third act, and minus half a star for having a character named "Allegra." Two stars outta five.