HITCH

PG-13
Reviews

The romantic comedy Hitch stars Will Smith as a perfect fit in the role of wise smoothie Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, the consultant/healer (referrals only!) to guys needing help getting dolls. This isn't just a cinematic valentine for young, romantically inclined urbanites, but also a valentine to New York City as it serves up sumptuous "Apprentice"-influenced poetic aerial shots, oodles of location shooting in the city's trendiest downtown neighborhoods, and spacious apartment loft interiors that would settle nicely onto the pages of Architectural Digest.

While debuting writer Kevin Bisch's script is as derivative as it is inspired, it does a fine job of providing a cast of bright players with the kind of ammo (sparkling dialogue and delicious situations) that will hit the bull's-eye with target audiences. Hitch's retro plot, harkening back to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson films of the '50s and to similar fluff from decades before (Woman of the Year and that ilk), requires an ample suspension of disbelief, but the sacrifice is worth it.

Assured operator Hitch has, as evidenced by his expensive duds and million-dollar loft apartment, a solid business advising nebbishy guys on how to get girls. Flirting with wish-fulfilling fairy-tale improbabilities, Hitch promises, by way of his mantra, that any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet. Enter tubby, klutzy, colorless, insecure client Albert (Kevin James), a really big challenge, figuratively and literally, into this fanciful realm. Albert is an accountant who is so clumsy, he makes Inspector Clouseau look absolutely poised and deft.

The lovelorn client hopelessly pines for Allegra (Amber Valletta), the gorgeous, lithe jet-set heiress whose fortune is in the hands of the accounting firm where Albert is a mere cog. Under Hitch's tutelage, Albert actually wins a date with the lady. Seemingly invisible in the ranks of her suited financial advisors, he is the one ready with the pen she needs and brave enough to serve up subversive financial advice. Intrigued, Allegra accepts Albert's invitation for a date. In one of the film's most amusing (and overexposed) scenes, Hitch instructs the CPA on how to successfully "close" the date with the right kind of kiss.

As things go in films like these, date doctor Hitch is the malady's worst victim. Severely burned by a previous relationship, he stumbles when he hits on Sara (actress and Revlon model Eva Mendes), the workaholic gossip columnist for a daily tabloid. Sara, of course, is about as resistant to a relationship as ice is to oil. Eventually, Hitch breaks the ice and the two fall in love.

Predictably, the reversal comes with Sara realizing Hitch's line of work, a development aggravated by the fact that her best friend Casey (Julie Ann Emery) has fallen victim after a nasty one-nighter with Vance (Jeffrey Donovan), a heartless Wall Street trader and cruel pick-up artist known for disastrous quickies.

Both the Hitch/Sara and Albert/Allegra courtships take the couples and audiences to some of the city's more exciting, upscale haunts for partying young professionals. As in all fairy tales, happy endings abound.

The film is smart enough to make clear that Hitch does not abide male pigs. Such professional ethics become clear early on when the healer refuses to take Vance on as a client, a key detail lost in later scuffles.

True to its antecedents, the formula-driven Hitch delivers an ending (actually, several endings) that is as satisfying as it is predictable. The film is largely well-designed fantasy that is fun and entertaining. Director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama) and vet composer George Fenton both deserve mounds of credit for respecting, even reinforcing, a genre with dinosaur genes.

Not incidentally, the rotund James, in a possible breakthrough performance, pulls off a "Napoleon Dynamite," emerging as yet another of filmdom's unlikely cool, gifted, captivating dancers, here proving that heavy has nothing to do with light on the feet.