Saturday, February 12, 2005


If you ever find yourself counting a Movie Geek among you recent aquaintances and you want to get to know them better with minimal digging on your part, here's something to try: Ask them if they have any "film theories" that are especially their own. Most of us have them.

By "film theory" I mean, to clarify, a certain opinion about film "overall" that this particular Geek happens to consider his or her very own. Some big moment of enlightenment they once had that they have by now fashioned into what can definately be called an "opinion" but which they are more apt to describe in such detail that it eventually crosses into the realm of a "theory."

I'm going to tell you mine, because I can tell you want to know me better. I mean, if not, then why are you reading this blog? Exclude yourself from this presumption if you are here because a friend of your's also happens to be a friend of mine and they gave you this URL, (in addition, if they qualified it with "you might like this" or "this guy is pretty interesting," please accept my humble appologies for how dissapointed you must be by now,) or if you only came for the review of "Hitch" which, I promise, we'll get to in a moment.

Anyway, here goes: I believe certain films and genres can be classified by gender. More literally, I believe that contrary to the popular notion that there are some films and films genres "for men" and others "for women," that instead the works in question can actually be said to have genders themselves, i.e. if films were to suddenly transform into animals, many or most of them would have classifiable genitalia.

This isn't unusual as theories go. Electrical wiring has "male" and "female" connectors. Computer software (stimulating) is "male" while hardware (nurturing) is "female." Sometimes it lines up curiously: Personality wise, the "lion" analogue to a human male is a female lion (hunter instinct.) Stretch the bounds a bit, and this can work for pretty much anything.

So it goes with films. There are "male" genres and there are "female" genres, at least in my estimation. And, like with everything else, usually they come in pairs and compliment one-another: Martial-Arts films are the "male" analogue to Musicals, a "female" genre. And there are complexities: It's a noted fact that the audience for Science Fiction and Fantasy is (still) predominantly male, but I also believe that Fantasy is the "feminine" counterpart to "masculine" scifi.

"Romantic Comedies" are a female genre, in gender and in audience appeal. These films just aren't made for men. They can be, but almost never are. Especially the "Rom-Coms," the dominant-subgenre in which popular actors are romanced by popular actresses in entirely-disposable narratives that serve only to pair them up and play off their established personas. You know these films by sight, because their DVD case is usually white while others are usually every other color.

"Hitch" is a kind of rare bird, then, as it is at least in part trying to do something different: Offering up a traditional, utterly-predictable "Rom-Com" from the perspective of it's male characters. In addition to focusing on the men, the male story is told not by the "goofy romantic chasing the girl" but instead from the vantage point of the obligatory "slick-cool-guy-pal-who-helps-out-messes-everything-up-but-then-fixes-it-sorta," in this case a self-proclaimed "Date Doctor" named Hitch who's helping a chubby nerd (Kevin James) woo a Hiltonesque heiress. That Hitch is played by Will Smith has more to do with making the sidekick/helper the lead role than any kind of creative jonesing by the filmmakers, but try not to let that bother you.

SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS follow, continue reading at your own risk.

In the film, Hitch is a guy who has (apparently) learned all there is to know about women, and proudly proclaims that with his advice "any man can sweep any woman off her feet." Rather than putting this all down in a book, Hitch works with "clients" personally, on an "untraceable" referal-only basis that has rendered "the Date Doctor" into a kind of urban legend whispered about in New York's female population. Hooking socially-inept Albert Heffernan (James) up with the heiress is to be Hitch's "masterpeice," and with that setup and plot the film really has a winning hand. Smith is perfect for this role, and he has real chemistry with James. When the film is concentrated on Hitch at "work" and with Albert in particular, there's a really great movie going on.

Unfortunately, another movie is going on that's just typical Rom-Com time-wasting that at first intrudes upon and then nearly crushes to death the more interest Hitch/Albert subplot. This other movie concerns a female gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) for whom Hitch falls hard and who also happens to be investigating the mystery of the Heiress's odd new beaux and the existance of the Date Doctor as well. This story just isn't very interesting, and that it seems intended by the filmmakers as the "A" plot is a colossal mistake.

The problem is with Mendes, a capable-enough actress here saddled with the role of the character who has to say and do whatever the script requires to advance the plot, no matter how foolish or out of character. The basic idea is that she's the "one woman" who's cynical and removed enough to be immune to Hitch's charms, but it doesn't work because Hitch is so well-written as a cool charmer (and played by Will Smith, who doesn't really even need the good writing to come off as cool and charming) that her character must twist and morph into a frigid, unlikable creep to make the "immunity" even partially believable. Eventually I started wondering why Hitch was bothering, and the film fails to provide an adequate answer.

The problem is also with the simple fact that the requirements of the two stories don't really compliment eachother at all. For the Hitch/Albert story to function, Hitch has to be a good guy of completely altruistic motives: The film goes to GREAT pains to establish that Hitch is a nice guy who only helps lonely guys fall in love, and refuses to aid those who are only out for sex. It's a movie, after all; in "reality" this person would probably much more resemble Frank TJ Mackey, Tom Cruise's "Seduce & Destroy" peddler from "Magnolia" than Hitch.

Thusly, the innevitable 3rd-act complication wherein Mendes misinterprets a situation so as to both discover that Hitch is the mythical Date Doctor and believe him guilty of nefarious doings plays as an unlikely (even pathologically cynical) move on her part, and her actions stemming from these events are simply cruel and petty: There's nothing that Hitch and people connected to him have done (or even are believed to have done) to deserve any of what happens to them in the third act, and Mendes character in turn does nothing that warrants her being forgiven for them.

As a result, the finale to the Hitch/Albert story, which is really funny and touching and just great in all the ways the rest of that story has been throughout, gets shoved to the side for attempts to salvage Mendes' character, and it just doesn't work. The film, overall, would have been infinitely superior focusing on Hitch's mentoring of Albert, jettisoning the Hitch's romance with the Mendes character and instead allowing her to assume her more natural role as the villain of the peice.

Still, half a good movie is better than none, and mostly-good is much better than I can usually say about most Rom-Coms. There's a lot of good in "Hitch," and while it's not really worth rushing out to see it's also not worth avoiding, either.

Final Rating: 6/10