Hitch

on February 11, 2005 by Mark Keizer
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The Will Smith comedy "Hitch" is like an uncomfortable but promising first date: both parties try too hard to be liked, stretches of boredom tempt disaster and neither can smoothly say goodnight. But all is forgiven since, despite the missteps, everyone had a nice time.

Smith plays the title noun (or possibly verb), a high-priced relationship consultant who teaches men how to behave on dates. This self-proclaimed Date Doctor doesn't advertise (his slick business card contains only a telephone number), and he dares not tell any woman what he really does for a living. Mind you, Hitch is no sleaze merchant, as evidenced when he refuses to help an obnoxious player who just wants to get laid. Well-versed in the mysterious courtship rituals of the human female, Hitch counsels men on how to make the women they love love them back.

Hitch's most challenging case (his Sistine Chapel, he calls it) is corpulent corporate accountant Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), who's fallen for client Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), a beautiful socialite/heiress/celebrity/not really sure what. Cole's nightlife is fodder for tabloid reporter Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), the very same Sara Melas whom Hitch met at a bar and now has the hots for. Of course, Hitch can dish out high-priced advice, but he finds it harder to practice what he preaches when pursuing Sara. Their first two dates end in humorously disastrous fashion. So Hitch's challenge is getting Allegra to fall in love with Albert, while getting the increasingly suspicious Sara to fall in love with him.

Freshman screenwriter Kevin Bisch's script has problems that director Andy Tennant ("Ever After") should have protected him from. Passages are deathly wordy and some scenes go multiple beats too long. Not content to be cute, the film must be super-duper cute, as lines are delivered with maximum chirpiness. Considering there's only two main storylines, the movie still manages to clock in at 116 minutes. The result makes the film clunky in spots, with boredom a constant possibility.

Such vices should be enough to sink any romantic comedy. But "Hitch" refuses to end until it wins you over and, eventually, it does both. Most of the credit goes to Smith, who is wonderfully at-ease in everything he does and here he effortlessly carries the movie. Sitcom star Kevin James makes a terrifically funny second banana, getting laughs from his general befuddlement, as well as some good physical comedy. The scenes in which Hitch tutors Albert on how to dance and how to lean in for the first kiss are good clean fun. There are plenty of solid chuckles and a light, sophisticated sheen that sets the proper tone. Excellent Manhattan locations ground the film nicely, while still allowing room for a fairytale quality to emerge. George Fenton's resourceful score mixes it up with some appropriate source tunes. Starring Will Smith, Kevin James and Eva Mendes. Directed by Andy Tennant. Written by Kevin Bisch. Produced by James Lassiter, Will Smith and Teddy Zee. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for language and some strong sexual references. Running time: 116 min

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