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Without an alien or robot in sight, the oh-so-charming Will Smith finally makes the leap into romantic comedies with the delightful if somewhat predictable Hitch. Will, baby, what took you so long?


Alex ''Hitch'' Hitchens (Smith) is a dating consultant, of sorts. Working strictly from referrals, this legendary but strictly anonymous New York ''date doctor'' helps men all over the city woo the women of their dreams. He coaches the guys on how to make it to the third date. After that, they're on their own. When Hitch meets his newest client--the meek, bespectacled accountant Albert (Kevin James), who is completely smitten with the glamorous heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta)--the self-proclaimed Michelangelo of love believes he has found what he calls his ''Sistine Chapel.'' But at the same time Hitch is prescribing his magic to Albert, he finds he can't take his own medicine. He's falling for the gorgeous, whip-smart gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), but their dates are more than disastrous. To top it off, Sara's biggest scoop could very well be the unmasking of Manhattan's most famous date doctor. Oh, what's a professional bachelor-turned-lovesick fellow to do?


It's about friggin' time Will Smith did one of these. He's tailor-made to play the romantic lead. Smith's funny, smart, sexy, suave and, at the same time, a little nerdy--you know, the same type he's been playing all along while battling any number of sci-fi creatures. Thankfully, he gets to turn on the charm with an actual woman this time. Unfortunately, it isn't the right one. Smith and Mendes (2 Fast 2 Furious) don't quite ignite the requisite sparks that we want them to, even though on her own, Mendes is a breath of fresh air. She never makes Sara a one-note ingénue, instead adding a lot of gutsy layers. No, the person Smith seems to click with the most is Kevin James (of TV's King of Queens), who, quite frankly, almost steals the movie away from our leading man. In his first real foray into features, James is simply sidesplitting as the dorky Albert. He's all thumbs, and constantly drops mustard over himself, but always has a pen--as well as a genuinely kind spirit and teddy-bear sexiness. The romance between James and supermodel-turned-actress Amber Valletta, as the Paris Hilton-like heiress, is the real deal.


Director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Ever After) seems to have a pretty good handle on the romantic comedy genre. The action moves at a nice clip for the most part, especially in the beginning. In one of the better opening montage sequences around, there's Hitch explaining to the audience his ideologies. We then see Smith putting them into practice as he assists three guys in getting their dream dates. It grabs you right away and sets the tone. The script by newcomer Kevin Bisch also is peppered with surprisingly refreshing dialogue, especially in the pre-date banter between Sara and Hitch and pretty much all the stuff with Albert. But there are a few snags in Hitch, namely with the aforementioned chemistry between the two leads, or lack thereof. The Sara-Hitch plot ultimately drags the film down, mostly because of its inevitability and the somewhat mushy ending. Shaving off about 15 minutes would have made Hitch hum.

Bottom Line

Will Smith has definitely made a wise career move, turning in another charismatic performance. But as engaging and hilarious as Hitch is, it also can't quite pull it off without just a few, er, hitches.