Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘Hitch’: Romantic Comedy With Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul

Michael Clark

In the 17 years since (and the 10 or so before) the release of "Hitch," websites and apps, which were geared to those looking for love or something like it, make what takes place throughout this film appear quaint, arcane, and more than a bit dated. What used to be done by professional matchmakers and buttinsky relatives can now be handled online in private in record time. The era of the third-party "set-up" is dead.

Had the movie been set in the late '80s or early '90s it would have felt far more authentic and of its time. Regardless, it does have an original premise, is highly engaging, and is buoyed by a crack ensemble cast.

A guy who was once shy, awkward, clueless, and desperate when it came to interacting with and winning over women, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) has grown into a man that is now smoother than glass, sharp as a razor, disarmingly charming, and totally at ease within his own skin. Hitch recognizes there are thousands of men in New York who are like his old self; petrified of the opposite sex without a clue of what works, Hitch has built a small cottage industry as the incognito “date doctor.”

Dating Scene

Taking on only referral clients, Hitch meets with lovelorn men, sizes them up, determines their strengths and weaknesses, and sets them off in the right direction. He is quite clear from the onset that he’s not in the business of prepping clients to “conquer” women for the purpose of fleeting hook-ups but rather for cultivating permanent, loving, long-term relationships.

Hitch’s newest client is Albert Brenneman (Kevin James), an accountant with a large, old-school firm, which manages the financial affairs of Allegra Cole (Amber Valetta, “The Family Man”), an heiress and socialite whose model-level beauty and outward detached air makes her unattainable in most men’s minds. Not exactly what most people would consider an “Adonis,” Albert—at least when he lets his guard down and says little—makes his large frame a non-factor.

 Amber Valetta and Kevin James star in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)
Amber Valetta and Kevin James star in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)

An actor cut from the same cloth as Jackie Gleason, Dom DeLuise, John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley, James often uses his size as his principal comic tool and, on a few occasions here, he does so but the remainder of the time, he’s uncommonly restrained and sometimes borders on nuanced.

When not on the clock with Albert, Hitch is doing his level best to win over Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), a tenacious, bulldog tabloid reporter with the instincts of a killer whale. Sara’s boss Max (Adam Arkin) is more than pleased with her work, but is worried that she’s flirting with burnout, as does her best friend Casey (Julie Ann Emrey), whose track record with men is more than abysmal.

 Will Smith and Eva Mendes in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)
Will Smith and Eva Mendes in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)
Even though Hitch’s first official date with Sara on Ellis Island goes awry and not as planned, she’s taken with his style, attention to detail, and his lack of being too eager to please. She stops playing hard to get, lets down a few walls, and they ease into something resembling a steady—whatever. Meanwhile, Albert and Allegra are clicking and all is right with the world, until it isn’t.

Never Quite Catches Fire

“Hitch” is the only screenplay to date written by Kevin Bisch and why he’s never done anything since is a mystery. The script isn’t perfect by any stretch, but as first efforts go, it’s pretty impressive. For director Andy Tennant (“The King and I” remake “Anna and the King” and the Reese Witherspoon vehicle “Sweet Home Alabama”), it marked his career zenith. This unlikely combination of filmmakers clicked and while the third act isn’t a revelation, it manages to toss in a few surprising twists, and it is one of the very few romantic comedies which thankfully strays from the usual tired and predictable rom-com blueprint.

It’s quite surprising that Mendes’ career didn’t catch fire after “Hitch.” Gorgeous and shapely she, like Valetta, also modeled and displays strong dramatic and comedic chops here. She went on to star in a dozen and a half mostly forgettable films after “Hitch” and hasn’t appeared in a feature since 2014.

After a brief stint as a rapper and the star of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” TV series, Smith wowed everyone with his turn as a con artist in “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993) and has never looked back. He’s appeared in multiple blockbuster action extravaganzas, some sci-fi stuff, a few “prestige” dramas, and along the way has been nominated for the Best Lead Actor Academy Award three times. Smith’s most recent Oscar nod came in February of this year for his performance playing the cantankerous tennis stage dad Richard Williams in “King Richard” and, of this writing, he is going to be the likely winner.

 Kevin James (L) and Will Smith in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)
Kevin James (L) and Will Smith in “Hitch.” (Columbia Pictures)

It is worth mentioning, I was not impressed with Smith’s performance in “King Richard” and found his character to be off-putting, unlikable and abrasive; however, Smith did take a huge chance by playing against type and sometimes that’s just enough to snag the industry’s top prize.

Not before or since “Hitch” has Smith done another romantic comedy, which is a shame as he displayed such a keen and effortless knack for this type of character. As he is now over 50, it’s not likely Smith is ever going to be offered, nor would he accept roles as a lead in any future romantic comedies, but he would certainly be more than qualified to be cast in a scene-stealing supporting role or two.

Almost everyone involved with the production of “Hitch” got it right. With just a slight tweak regarding the time setting, it would have been a near-perfect affair.

‘Hitch’ Director: Andy Tennant Stars: Will Smith, Kevin James, Eva Mendes, Amber Valletta, Adam Arkin Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes MPAA Rating: PG-13 Release Date: Feb. 11, 2005 Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.