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Thanks to Will Smith, 'Hitch' is decent February cinematic fare

Maybe it was just a sense of relief after sitting through an endless string of low-grade horror movies, but I found Hitch sort of charming in a "not that great of a movie but good enough for right now" sort of way. I liken the experience to getting a nice, chocolate-covered cherry after somebody's been shoving rotten fish heads covered with cow shit down your throat for six weeks. Hell, anything will taste good after 40 days of shitty fish heads.

Will Smith basically plays a variation of the role he portrayed in The Legend of Bagger Vance, except this time, he's helping people with their kissing motions instead of their backswings. Smith plays Hitch, a mysterious dating therapist in New York City seen as an urban legend by the ladies, but well-known and easily reachable by desperate, sorry-assed men. Guys basically pay him a lot to put them down and make them feel like idiots for just being themselves. They must pay him bucket loads, because Hitch's apartment is sweeet.

The movie's premise is that without the help of a real smoothie like Hitch the Date Doctor, most men would be shamefully embarrassing in the romantic pursuit of their female targets. Hitch teaches his clients that it is essential to lie their butts off if they want to get the girl, because God has made them hopeless. Putting on a Don Juan façade and pretending to be someone else is the only way that woman is going to turn her head. Indeed, a young nerd gets noticed in the opening sequence by staging the rescue of a woman's dog--something I'm sure she wouldn't find cute if he were to share the true story of their courtship on their fifth wedding anniversary.

Obviously, it doesn't do any good to pick apart the logic of a film like this. It's innocuous fodder placed strategically in February, when everybody can enjoy a nice, romantic helping of Will Smith in time for Valentine's Day. I found myself progressing from, "Gee, this premise is kind of shoddy" to "Ahh, who cares! Everybody in this movie is just so darned cute!" as the movie played through.

The film basically follows two plotlines, one involving hapless client Albert (Kevin James), who's in love with the beautiful and rich Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta), and Hitch's own pursuit of scrappy gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes). Hitch shows Albert how to dance, talk on the phone and eat Altoids like a pro. But when it comes to Hitch's courtship of Sara, he's a complete disaster.

It's Hitch's mess-ups with Sara that provide the film's best moments of humor. When he takes her jet skiing on the Hudson River, he inadvertently dropkicks her while dismounting his vehicle. A cooking class goes very wrong when Hitch ingests shellfish, and proceeds to swell up like a hot dog in the microwave. Seeing Smith navigate pure comedy so effortlessly makes me wonder why he doesn't opt for comedic scripts more often.

James and Valletta make for a cute if remarkably unrealistic couple, while the pairing of Smith and Mendes is a little less successful. Mendes is basically given a tricky character that is very hard to like, but she does her best with a flimsy part.

In the end, the men learn that they don't need Hitch to score with women, and Hitch gets the girl but is basically unemployed. At press time, Smith has nothing on his plate regarding future films. He should take a cue from this one--a movie that probably would've sucked without him--and try out some more comedic fare.

Hitch
Rated NR

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