Hitch arrives in theaters with all of the liabilities of a typical romantic comedy fully intact: a barely believable, too-clever premise; a predictable story arch (meet/spar/fall in love/fall out of love/fall back in love/live happily ever after); and a calculated lack of depth. But sometimes even formula has to work, and this time it does.
Hitch (rated PG-13 for language and some strong sexual references) is studio-manufactured and star-driven, but also charming, well-acted, and efficiently crafted. The movie is not as crass as its advertising suggests (and even contains some surprisingly positive elements) but does include one strong profanity and some crude sex-related dialogue.
Director Andy Tennant's film has the distinction of being Will Smith's first romantic comedy. It won't be his last. Will Smith essentially plays Will Smith™ in most of his films (save, perhaps, Ali), and the romantic comedy format allows him to be that charismatic character without the distractions of aliens or explosions.
Mr. Smith plays Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a professional "date doctor" who coaches the lovesick and lovelorn into meeting and marrying the women of their dreams. Hitch's strategies sometimes verge on the deceptive, but mostly they involve making his subjects smooth, confident, and self-aware. ("Ninety percent of what you're saying isn't coming out of your mouth," he explains.)
Hitch meets his toughest challenge, his "Sistine Chapel," in the form of Albert (Kevin James), an awkward, generously proportioned accountant in love with one of his clients, beautiful heiress Allegra (Amber Valletta). About the same time, Hitch encounters jaded tabloid gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes), clearly a challenging project on a more personal level.
Whatever flimsy pretext is propping up the plot, most romantic comedies focus on the mechanics of the central relationship. Part of Hitch's strength is a story that gives the film a good reason to do just that. It also benefits from a reasonably interesting secondary romance in Albert and Allegra. The sturdy Mr. James is surprisingly spry, exhibiting a real gift for physical comedy.
Not much in Hitch resembles a Christian view of love and marriage, but the film's characters are not as worldly as one might expect. None of the key characters engage in any sexual activity on screen or off, and the one sexual encounter that plays a role in the plot occurs off screen and is an overwhelmingly negative experience.