COMEDY

Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Adam Arkin

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Alex "Hitch" Hitchens is a love consultant in Manhattan. He earns big bucks teaching men—most of them ordinary-looking schmoes besotted with gorgeous, out-of-their-league gals—how to manipulate their way into the women's affections. "With no guile and no game, there's no girl," Hitch preaches. But when Hitch (Smith) tries to follow his own advice while romancing a wary journalist (Mendes, who snarls winningly), he ends up in trouble.

With Hitch, director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama) has made a fitfully amusing film that lurches through for the first half. But when it becomes all too apparent that few of the folk onscreen bear much resemblance to real human beings and they're only marking time until the inevitable happy ending, one's patience wears thin. The problem? Hitch is as contrived as the behavioral advice its hero dishes out to his clients. It's chockablock with flimsy subplots, hard-to-swallow story twists and even a food fight, which neither flesh out characters nor move matters along. It mostly wastes the congenial talents of Smith (see story, page 91), who is stuck playing straight man to James. Meanwhile, the King of Queens star steals Hitch with his high-energy portrayal of a shy accountant in love with a glamorous heiress (Valletta). James makes his schlub the most sympathetic character in the film and, with this performance, moves to the front of the line of contenders vying for the coveted title—previous holders include John Belushi and John Candy—of America's Favorite Funny Portly Guy. (PG-13)

ROMANTIC COMEDYAishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson

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To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a director's follow-up film to a big hit may fail to live up to expectations. That's sadly the case with Bend It Like Beckham writer-director Gurinder Chadha's latest, an extravaganza blending classic Austen and India's Bollywood musicals that starts off scattershot and only partly regains its footing. There are enjoyable moments, but overall Bride & Prejudice lacks Beckham's pointed multicultural snap.

In Bride, a relocated version of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a brainy Indian woman (Bollywood star Rai) mistakes the cautious reserve of dashing Darcy (Henderson), a wealthy American visitor, for snobbish disdain. These two are meant for each other but must first work through cultural misunderstandings. While the lovely Rai is a live wire, ho-hum Henderson appears stiff enough to be mistaken for comatose. (PG-13)

DOCUMENTARY

Inside Deep Throat

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Back in 1972, before porn migrated to home video and the Internet, dirty movies unspooled in dingy theaters to sparse audiences of raincoat-wearing men. Deep Throat changed all that. Made for $25,000, the skin flick grossed blockbuster-level millions after obscenity lawsuits and news stories turned Deep into a must-see phenomenon.

This informative, often amusing documentary deftly weaves interviews with those who made, prosecuted and defended Deep along with apt archival footage to capture an era and its aftermath. Today, porn is pervasive, yet it still sparks controversy. One is struck by how, between 1972 and now, much has changed and yet nothing has changed. (Warning: Inside shows X-rated scenes from Deep.) (NC-17)

ANIMATED
Voices by Jim Cummings, Nikita Hopkins

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The key ingredient in any movie aimed at small fry: plenty of pratfalls. Every time Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore or any of the other habitués of the Hundred Acre Wood took a tumble, hearty laughter erupted from members of the pre-K set at the screening I attended. In Pooh's Heffalump Movie, the star is tiny Roo (a kangaroo, for those unfamiliar with A.A. Milne's beloved animal characters). He hunts down and then befriends a purple elephant-like creature called a heffalump. The film includes spills galore as well as lessons about not being afraid of creatures who are different, heeding one's parents and the soothing power of song.

For adults, Heffalump is apt to raise troubling questions one might be better off not sharing with the kids. These include: Why is Pooh, who wears a top, always pantless? Why are there mommies but no daddies in the Wood? And why does Rabbit roll his ears up in curlers at night? (G)

FAMILY
Joe Mantegna, Pierrino Mascarino

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A family living in an affluent Chicago suburb barely see each other, never sharing a meal or a meaningful conversation. Dad (Mantegna) works, Mom (Anne Archer) runs errands, the surly teenage son (Trevor Morgan) hangs with his rock band and the tweener daughter (Gina Mantegna, appearing with her real-life papa) pines for a pet. Into their midst for an extended visit drops Uncle Nino (Mascarino) from Italy. The wise old relative quickly sizes up his kinfolks' discontent and teaches them how Old World ways—pasta, wine, gardening, fiddle-playing—can cure all ills. Uncle Nino is sentimental pablum, but its message about taking time to savor homemade pizza with the family is a worthy one. (PG)

The Wedding Date

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In a weak romantic comedy, Will & Grace's Debra Messing stars as a woman who, desperate for a date to take to her sister's wedding in London, hires a male escort (Dermot Mulroney). They fall for each other, but a gender-reversed Pretty Woman this most definitely is not. (PG-13)

Million Dollar Baby

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Movies don't come better or richer in meaning than this Oscar-nominated beauty by director Clint Eastwood, which follows the deepening relationship between a boxer (Hilary Swank) and her trainer (Eastwood). Morgan Freeman costars. (PG-13)

Hide and Seek

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Robert De Niro and talented child star Dakota Fanning go slumming in a tired horror thriller about a widowed psychologist and his troubled daughter who move to a spooky house in the country. (R)Catalina Sandino Moreno

Nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her movie debut in Maria Full of Grace, Sandino Moreno, 23, was a college student in Colombia when she was cast as a teen drug mule.

ON SWALLOWING (FAKE) DRUGS I didn't practice because Maria was a novice. I swallowed eight [simulated drug-filled balloons] in all. It fills you up, but it also leaves you hungry, and you cannot eat.

ON MOVING TO NEW YORK CITY I lived in Bogotá all my life, I wanted to go to New York to be an actress. Then 9/11 happened, and my mom said, "Not even if you are dead will you go." So I decided to study advertising. Then Joshua [Marston, Maria's director] entered my life. Now I'm living the dream. I love the subway. I'm a real urbanite.

ON HER OSCAR DRESS I still don't have anything in mind. I don't have much patience for fittings.

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Sandra Marquez.