Will Smith is effervescent—of course. Smith seemed to sacrifice his vitality for seriousness in Six Degrees of Separation, and he seemed to walk through his other early roles in search of the obviously comic and dramatic moments, almost until the film Ali, which suggested maturity and commitment to craft. He is still Mr. Instant Transcendence, but that only means that he is the kind of personality for which movies exist: for pure charisma, few can compare.
Reviewed by Daniel Garrett
2005, Starring: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, et al.
Director: Andy Tennant
Willard Christopher Smith Jr., a child of middle-class West Philadelphia, was brought to mainstream American attention as Will Smith by his music partnership with DJ Jazzy Jeff and Smith’s television series, 1990’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which lasted six years. Smith’s demeanor is boyish, friendly, happy; and he is a glowingly handsome presence. Will Smith’s films, most of them great successes, include Six Degrees of Separation (1993), Bad Boys (1995), Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Enemy of the State (1998), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Ali (2001), and I, Robot (2004). Will Smith’s film Hitch, directed by Andy Tennant (and written by Ken Bisch), is full of high energy and its scenes are fluid and persuasive, and its Manhattan setting is part of its charm. Often, a real world atmosphere is created—in clubs, offices, and recognizable locations (the cinematographer is Andrew Dunn, Jane Musky the production designer). Hitch begins with the sounds of a Sam Cooke song, appropriate as Cooke was another African-American icon whose image—sweet, suave, smart—while he lived was utterly positive. The film’s narrator, Smith’s character Alex Hitchens, says that women don’t wake up saying they don’t want to be swept off their feet, but that often men do not know how to approach them. We see scenes of various women—on the street, on stage, in apartment buildings—and some of the women are brushing men off them. Smith’s Hitchens gives advice to men about love: Be who you are. He helps the men make a first impression on women (actually, a first, second, and third impression)—and then they’re on their own, and it’s their job not to mess things up. After being introduced to Hitchens or Hitch, we are introduced to Eva Mendes’s character, Sara Melas, a gossip columnist. Mendes was previously in Training Day (2001), Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), Out of Time (2003), and Stuck on You (2003); and her character here is single, smart, successful, and somewhat suspicious of men. We see her coming back to her newspaper office early from vacation with a scoop of news about a philandering celebrity, establishing her devotion to work. Hitch, who advises men on love, and Sara, who writes about the love lives of the famous, are on a collision course.
Hitch’s friend, played by Michael Rapaport, tells him that he has short-term vision and goals and doesn’t see the long run; and the long run might include a woman he wants to make a commitment to be with. Meanwhile, Sara and her woman friend meet and talk about the difficulties of dating and about a date doctor who gives advice to men (Mendes says the doctor is an urban myth).
We see a flashback of Hitch when he was less smooth—at college, where and when he was a sensitive, talkative nerd, a loser with women, and hurt by the girl he loved. (The young Hitch is an African-American type we haven’t seen much of—it would have been interesting to see more of him.) Then and there Hitch learned what not to do: and he transformed himself from someone saturated with feeling to someone who analyzes relationships and develops effective and self-protective strategies: intelligence.
Hitch moves on to a new client, a stocky accountant, Albert, played by Kevin James, a man without game, a man who has been hurt a lot. Hitch calls Albert his Sistine Chapel, his most significant project. Albert is interested in Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), a rich beauty who wants to invest half a million dollars in her designer friend’s business. Albert’s firm, which advises her, prefers that its staff identify investment opportunities for her; and though disappointed, she accepts that, until Albert speaks up for her—and in the ensuing disagreement quits his job. This becomes a weak point in the film: after he quits he’s still preoccupied with Allegra, apparently both professionally and personally, and we don’t see him worrying about career or money. Is she paying him, and paying him enough not to worry; and, if so, why doesn’t that affect their developing friendship and romance?
Sara and her woman friend talk. When Sara’s friend steps away, Sara is first approached rather predictably by a man whom she rebuffs, then by Hitch, who seems very intelligent—he deconstructs the mating game for her, and leaves her without asking for anything, and that peaks her interest. Hitch, unknown to all, meets with a man who is infatuated with Sara’s friend—a man who only wants sex, who only wants to hit it and quit it. Hitch rejects the job, and when the man tries to intimidate him, Hitch twists his arm and sweetly—yes sweetly—threatens him. Hitch has a messenger deliver a package to Sara, and it contains a cell phone, to which Hitch calls, and he asks Sara for a date. He has sent her a scuba suit; and they go water skiing. His jet ski’s engine fails, and while trying to get on her jet ski he knocks her into the water. They visit Ellis Island, where he has identified one of Sara’s relatives who entered there years ago, but that doesn’t make the impression he expected. Saying goodbye, his shirt gets caught in the door of the taxi she is taking. Sara, however, thinks Hitch failed the date with flair.
Albert (Kevin James) invites Allegra and her designer friend to attend a fashion event; and after Hitch advises Albert to be attentive to both Allegra and her friend, Albert impresses them both. Albert gets training in handling kisses from Hitch; and Albert’s eagerness—when told to imagine that Hitch is Allegra, he kisses Hitch passionately—is funny. (Hitch, before wiping his own mouth, calls Albert overzealous.) Sara Melas, trying to track down Allegra’s new companion, finds out that the fashion event invitation for Albert’s date went to Hitch. Sara invites Hitch to a cooking demonstration (to return his shirt; and get more information out of him); and her editor Max (Adam Arkin) is there. There is a nicely self-conscious (thoroughly intelligent) scene involving their discussion of social and romantic expectations: that is not only awareness of the clichés of social life, but also awareness of the expectations born of cinema. Sara’s boss asks about Hitch’s work, before Hitch begins to itch: he has a food allergy to shellfish, which Sara has fed him, and Sara helps him find off-the-shelf medicine, which he gets drunk on. In her casually chic apartment, each tells a little about his/her family, and they fall asleep on the couch together. The next day, Hitch says, Begin every day as if it were a purpose, one of his little mantras. They kiss goodbye (I wrote in my notebook, This works!); and by now the lead actors, their characters, and the movie have manifested enormous charm
Will Smith is effervescent—of course. Smith seemed to sacrifice his vitality for seriousness in Six Degrees of Separation, and he seemed to walk through his other early roles in search of the obviously comic and dramatic moments, almost until the film Ali, which suggested maturity and commitment to craft. He is still Mr. Instant Transcendence, but that only means that he is the kind of personality for which movies exist: for pure charisma, few can compare. Eva Mendes as Sara is not dwarfed by him, and is a pleasure to see, but I don’t have a full grasp of her range, despite there being a scene that moved me to think, She is intense. I want to call her sultry, but fear the use of cliché. Amber Valletta projects a delicate apprehension, and seems shy, thoughtful—and subtle, as Allegra, a woman who feels trepidation about her movements though all doors are open to her. Kevin James as Albert gives a full-hearted performance as a loving, bumbling, big guy. Will Smith has an easy rapport with all his co-stars, as he has become a good listener and looks as if he’s thinking about—and responding to—what he hears; and to say that is to say he is not only a personality but an actor, possibly an artist. The film creates a world in which the actors and their characters are able to breathe and strut.
Happiness and hope inevitably presage trouble: and Sara’s woman friend sleeps with the wrong man (the insensitive man who wanted to hire Hitch to help him seduce a woman for sex), the client Hitch rejected. Meanwhile, Allegra and Albert attend a Knicks basketball game, and are seen by Sara and a photographer. Sara, having got the date doctor’s phone number from her friend’s wrong man, has her co-worker Jeff, an African-American male, call for advice and she and her photographer have Jeff’s meeting with the doctor under surveillance: and Sara is surprised to see the man is Hitch. (Jeff, like one other character in the film is gay, which is presented as nothing more than a perceptible fact, adding to the cosmopolitan tone of the film, which stars African-American Smith, Latina Mendes—she’s Cuban, and features other actors of diverse origins and orientations. I regret that one does not have a stronger impression of the striving—of the struggle and support—beneath all that apparent success, and that the success is not shown to be meaningful in more than individual or personal terms. Theirs is a beautiful private utopia.) Sara is angry with Hitch when she gets to his place for dinner, as she now thinks Hitch gives men advice that makes it easier for them to trick women into bed rather than form relationships with women. The next day, Hitch is exposed and Allegra and Albert’s relationship held up to ridicule in Sara’s newspaper.
Hitch tracks Sara down in a restaurant, where she and her friend are attending a speed-dating session (people have brief chats with a bunch of possible dates); and Hitch explains himself. Sara will later visit Hitch to apologize, though Hitch is too hurt to reconcile. Albert is unhappy with Allegra’s absence from his life. Hitch meets with Allegra to explain his methods—that he helps men to be comfortable and make favorable impressions on women they genuinely like—and Allegra makes it plain that she liked Albert not for his smoothness but for his awkwardness, for his vulnerability: for himself. (I do have reservations about the genuine self, the lovable self, being seen as the uncultivated self.) Allegra and Albert reconcile, but Hitch’s attempts to communicate with Sara are difficult, as his complicated feelings sabotage his eloquence: he admits he loves her and that of course is key. Allegra and Albert get married and everyone dances.
About the Reviewer: Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, is a graduate of the New School for Social Research. His work has appeared in The African, AIM/America’s Intercultural Magazine, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black American Literature Forum, Changing Men, The City Sun, Frictionmagazine.com, The Humanist, Hyphen, Identity Theory.com, Illuminations, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Option, PopMatters.com, Red River Review, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, TechnologyReports.net, 24FramesPerSecond.com, UnlikelyStories.org, and World Literature Today.