Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/11/05 19:44:05

"A light truffle of a comedy."
3 stars (Just Average)

Much in the same way that one gets mad for liking a vapid but catchy pop song, I find that I’m kicking myself for actually liking the Will Smith romantic comedy “Hitch.” This film is shallow, sugary, disposable. Cotton candy entertainment. But ya know, sometimes cotton candy tastes really yummy, pop songs are fun for the ears, and movies like “Hitch” can make for a breezy good time.

Here’s what kind of movie “Hitch” is: its original title was the clever, witty “The Last First Kiss.” This title was dumped, however, for the far more generic one it uses now, perhaps because the studio thought audiences wouldn’t be able to figure out what the hell the title meant. It’s a movie whose very title had to be dumbed down for its target audience. Doesn’t bode well, does it?

So I entered this movie with the lowest of expectations. And I came out smiling. “Hitch” has a charm that wins you over, even when you know exactly where the plot is headed and you know just how clichéd the characters are behaving and you know that everyone in the cast should probably be spending their time making something smarter.

Smith plays Alex Hitchens, aka the title character, a New York “date doctor” who helps lonely guys land the gals of their dreams by offering advice, setting up romantic Meet Cutes, that sort of thing. His latest project: frumpy, awkward accountant Albert (Kevin James), who is love with his supercelebrity client Allegra (Amber Valletta). That Albert has a knack for spilling mustard on his trousers and that Allegra is stunningly beautiful are two signs of the work Hitch has cut out for him.

The catch of the movie is that despite his successes with others’ romances, Hitch is helpless in his own lovelife. Enter gossip columnist Sarah (Eva Mendes), who is won over by Hitch’s natural charm, yet not so wowed by his knack for getting things wrong. Oh, will this master of romance be able to find love for himself?

If you’re the least unsure of how any of this will turn out by the closing credits, then I’m somewhat surprised that you’re able to read this review without your mom’s help. There are no surprises, no turns in the road to be found here. But to expect any would be to miss the point - this is a movie that does not intend to be anything more than charming, heartwarming, and funny. In others words, it is the inoffensive work of director Andy Tennant, who previously helmed such unassuming titles as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Ever After.”

Normally, Tennant’s take-no-chances approach leads to weak affairs (it’s not much of a good sign when your best work until now is “Fools Rush In”), but here, working with a top notch comedic cast and a usable screenplay from first-time writer Kevin Bisch, Tennant manages to pull off a thoroughly enjoyable number.

It’s so pleasant in its approach that at times I found myself recalling the fluffy comedies of the Cary Grant era. Which may be precisely why it works - Smith, with his aw shucks charm and endless supply of likability, has the screen presence of an old fashioned movie star. And he knows it. Smith, realizing that such a role is designed to challenge neither the actor nor the audience, goes head on in full movie star mode. The result is plenty of fun.

The real treat here, however, is James, whose comic timing has rarely been as sharp. Not only do he and Smith make an unexpectedly good team, but James on his own lands most of the film’s funniest moments. Here’s a physical comic who knows how to fumble and bumble, to make himself look like a complete doofus yet still come off the hero. James becomes so agreeable here that - dare I say it? - we actually begin to care for what happens to his character.

Normally in such a movie, we’re too bored by the plot’s predictability that caring for characters becomes a chore. Not here. The cast is funny enough and the mood pleasant enough that it becomes all too easy to buy into the hackneyed storyline and actually hope the best for those stuck in it. And while “Hitch,” running far too long at just under two hours, begins to wear thin in spots, it still manages to hold our smiles from start to finish.

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