There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but in Hitch, Will Smith plays a perfect man. Smith’s character, Alex “Hitch” Hitchens, is good-looking and successful, charming and ethical, smart and smooth. A legendary “date doctor” who promises clients he can help them nab the women of their dreams, Hitch is the sort of gentleman who advocates listening to a woman, showing her respect, and using lots of ingenuity—and by “ingenuity,” I mean money—in the wooing process. And he practices what he preaches: Instead of seeming pushy and calling a special lady at work when she hasn’t yet given him her number, Hitch sends over a messenger with a gift-wrapped walkie-talkie and an outfit for the date invitation that the whole office hears—and she just had to accept. Isn’t that darling?
By the time said date gets to the private tour of Ellis Island with a security guard who gushes, “Anything for Hitch!” you may already be sick of him. But that’s OK, because Andy Tennant’s romantic comedy balances Smith’s überdudeness with the welcome buffoonery of Kevin James. The stand-up-circuit vet plays Albert, a Manhattan accountant who’s been drooling over his firm’s biggest client, celebrity heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). And here James is far from the confident, more-of-me-to-love character he’s known for in King of Queens. Instead, he’s sloppy and accident-prone, and he interrupts his uncharacteristically assured dancing with mental notes such as “I start the fire; I make the pizza!”
Sadly, Tennant’s follow-up to Sweet Home Alabama deflates whenever James isn’t onscreen, and its focus shifts toward the potential power couple of the story: Hitch, naturally, and Sara (Eva Mendes), a happy-to-be-alone (yawn) gossip columnist who can’t resist him. At least until she gets a skewed idea of what he does, of course. Then she tries to expose him as the no-good Yoda of womanizers that she believes him to be.
Clearly, screenwriter Kevin Bisch has thoroughly raided the reserves of rom-com standbys for his shallow first effort. We get cardboard characters who are “guarded” because other people tell them they are. We get dialogue such as “Life is not the amount of breaths you take—it’s the number of moments that take your breath away!” (Not to mention Hitch’s explanation of why he jumps in front of—and gets hit by—Sara’s car: “Because that’s what people do!”) We get stock scenes such as the playful music-accompanied first date (way too long), the sobbing run out of the room (twice!), and, most unfortunately, the laff riot that is physical infirmity (Hitch gets high on Benadryl!).
No surprises there. But here’s one: Hitch is just barely—and I mean barely—saved from its numerous oh-please moments by the cast’s star power. However irritating his character is, Smith can’t help but make us like him for a moment or two, and Mendes’ no-nonsense Sara is a refreshing departure from the skanks the actress is usually stuck playing. And James? Well, anyone who can get laughs out of the Stupid White Man Dance—especially after a painfully unfunny version has been played ad nauseam in trailers—is worth suffering through the mediocrity for. When Hitch starts limping toward its I-can’t-live-without-you conclusion, you can just picture Albert making his pizza.
Bride and Prejudice also suffers from plenty of romantic-comedy clichés, from a forehead-slapping ethnic mother to a bickering but meant-to-be couple. OK, OK, since this Bollywood-style musical from Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha is yet another take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, its predictable luv arc can be forgiven. But Chadha’s contribution to Valentine’s Day box office doesn’t rise above its flaws for a few reasons: (1) Its dancing isn’t funny. (2) Its buffoon isn’t funny. And (3) its star power consists of Martin Henderson, previously of Torque.
At least you’re supposed to hate his character. Henderson plays Will Darcy, a wealthy American hotelier who travels to India with his friend Balraj Bingley (Naveen Andrews), a barrister whom Mother Bakshi (Nadira Babbar) has in mind for her eldest of four daughters, Jaya (Namrata Shirodkar). At the wedding party/matchmaking soiree the pals attend, Darcy—in what ends up being the only action that shows he’s not completely brain-dead—is immediately drawn to the ridiculously attractive Lalita (Aishwarya Rai), the headstrong second-eldest Bakshi sister. She, naturally, is just as quickly turned off by Darcy’s dismissive comments about her country. Or maybe it’s his complete lack of a personality—tough call.
Chadha, who co-wrote the script with Beckham collaborator Paul Mayeda Berges, doesn’t waste any time in establishing the pattern she’ll follow for most of the movie’s 111 minutes: elaborately choreographed dance sequence, Lalita scowling, Darcy staring, Mom cracking wise about dying poor and grandchildless. Repeat. Kicking the story off at the wedding party must have seemed like a great idea, with the good-looking cast decked out in bright formal wear and lots of high-energy boogieing to establish a jubilant mood.
But despite all its colorful spectacle—even the shopkeeps sing and dance, and look at those silly, sari’d transvestites!—Bride proves sorely lacking in the joyfulness that defined Chadha’s last effort. Perhaps next time she should return to telling a story the traditional Western way: Though the dancing in the bigger numbers is suitably eye-catching, Bride’s musical interludes are often interminable momentum-breakers, with songs (by Anu Malik and Craig Pruess) that are bland at best and insidiously irritating at worst. (Try getting that endless chorus of “No life—without wife/Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!” out of your head).
Not that the script itself is so compelling. Filling in Austen’s outline with the very broadest strokes, Bride seeks laughs mainly from Babbar’s overweight, constantly maligned mother and the U.S.-transplanted Mr. Kholi (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), a wife-hunting businessman who’s sloppy and vulgar but is deemed a suitable husband for Lalita because he is rich. Of course, Lalita scowls at Kholi even harder than she does at Darcy, all the while swooning over Wickham (Daniel Gillies), an English acquaintance of Darcy’s whom the American warns her to stay away from. Even if you’re not familiar with the book, it’s pretty clear who will end up winning Lalita’s heart.
Rai, a Bollywood queen and former Miss World whose most-beautiful-woman-on-the-planet title isn’t all that ill-fitting, does an adequate job with her first English-speaking role, thin though it may be. (Perhaps it’s because she was already familiar with Austen, having starred in the Sense and Sensibility– based I Have Found It in 2000). Henderson’s wooden turn as Darcy, however—never smugly attractive nor boyishly smitten, nor anything but stone-dumb—makes Keanu Reeves look like Marlon Brando.
Obviously, a film like Bride and Prejudice is meant for a certain audience—the apparently irony-free Chadha has described it as comprising “mainstream and…diasporic Asians”—and there are probably plenty of people who’ll be tickled by its facile flash and treacle-soaked scenes of couples on the beach or running through fountains. But as Lalita’s mother says in defense of her matchmaking, “There’s nothing wrong with having standards, is there?”CP