Not without a 'Hitch' or two

Will Smith's ample charm fails to save this romantic comedy.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Will Smith is a major movie star, which means even a misfire like "Hitch" probably won't hurt his momentum too much. He's gotten away with rubbish like "Wild Wild West" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance," after all, and rebounded with first-rate work in "Ali" and last year's better-than-expected "I, Robot."

"Hitch" might even help him, since his energetic acting is one of the picture's two chief assets. The other is a handful of amusing performances from the supporting cast, and I suspect Smith's excellence helped inspire them to rise above the silly material.

The plot centers on the title character and the peculiar way he makes his living. He's a "date doctor" who teaches klutzy men how to wow women into romance. The doc's big client is a corporate type (Kevin James) with eyes for a wealthy woman who owns a company. The main action, however, swirls around a gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) who attracts Hitch with her looks, but she's out to write an exposé on him and his profession. Hitch thought he had a solution for any possible love-life complication, but this one stumps him. Until the happy ending, of course.

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This is the sort of tale Hollywood calls a "high concept" story, simple and snappy enough to be summed up in a sentence. Simple plus snappy doesn't equal entertaining, though, and "Hitch" suffers from a good-joke deficit that even Smith's charm has trouble balancing.

The fact that he almost pulls the movie off is all the more impressive when you realize that this is his first real romantic comedy. Credit goes partly to his likable persona and partly to solid support from James, of "The King of Queens" fame, Amber Valletta as the heiress he's after, and Mendes as the gossip columnist - a job that relates to real journalism the way Hitch's job does to real doctoring.

Along with its try-anything-for-a-yuk screenplay, the worst thing about "Hitch" is its running time of almost two hours. Did the studio forget to edit this flimsy thing down? Whatever the explanation, it needs at least a 30-minute trim. Date doctor, heal thyself!

Rated PG-13; contains sexual dialogue.

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