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By Admin | February 12, 2005

“Date Doctor” Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) is sort of the A-Team of male romantic problems: when a guy is at the end of his rope regarding the fairer sex, they call Hitch. He, in turn, coaches them through the process of wooing and winning the girl of their dreams. His success rate is such that he lives a life of relative prosperity and has even achieved a sort of urban legend status among the single women of New York City.

Hitch’s latest remodeling job is one Albert Brennaman (Kevin James), a shy, doughy accountant with an unrequited crush on his firm’s marquee client, heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Desperate to show Allegra the depth of his feelings but utterly unable to express them, he seeks out Hitch. After an initial consultation, Hitch agrees to the project, confident in Albert’s prospects no matter how hopeless they may appear, especially to those of us in the real world who know chubby dorks rarely land the beauty queen.

But we’re talking about The Movies here, where the impossible can happen, dreams always come true, and the love of your life will always see the inner beauty lurking beneath your 44-inch waist. Besides, Hitch has his own romantic dilemma. At the same time he’s been helping Albert, he’s also pursuing gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes) and finding that his patented moves are having little positive effect. Sara, meanwhile, is being pressured to find out who this Albert guy is and why he’s dating a stone fox like Allegra Cole. Eventually (and predictably), the paths of all four principals will cross, and not necessarily in the best way.

It should be noted up front that there’s little original about “Hitch.” Romantic comedies are as rigid and unyielding, narrative-wise, as a John Grisham novel, and this one’s no exception. We’re supposed to agonize over whether or not the guy(s) will really end up getting the girl(s) in the end, even though there hasn’t been a major Hollywood rom-com that’s strayed from the required happy ending since Nora Ephron came along. “Hitch” gets off to a decent start, with relaxed dialogue and decent performances from Smith, James, and Valletta (A supermodel who can act? Where are the other three Horsemen?). Smith doesn’t make the I, Robot mistake of lapsing into his Fresh Prince shtick, and I never thought I’d say this, but James is actually pretty funny. The movie slides into slapstick at times, but it never overpowers the story.

Once the contrived conflict appears, however, it’s only a matter of time before the machinery of the romantic comedy formula inexorably squeezes the last remaining charm and humor from the film. And as the female lead, Mendes never really impresses, beyond filling out a sweater admirably. Not that it matters, she’s a fresh face and her relative lack of acting skill never takes us out of the film.

All told, “Hitch” is a welcome departure from Smith’s usual escapades battling computer generated bad guys (“Men in Black,” “I, Robot”) or shucking and jiving in marketing exercises masquerading as kids’ movies (Shark Tale). On top of that, as the first movie of its kind to come along this year, it stands to make a gargantuan amount of money.

Then again, there’s every possibility I’m overreacting to two months of bottom of the barrel Hollywood releases, but for what it is, “Hitch” gets the job done.

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