Hitch (Will Smith) is Alex Hitchens, a professional romance consultant or Date Doctor. If you're a lonely, single man in New York City, he's the guy you want to call. Hitch believes that, under the right circumstances, any man can win the heart of any woman. Arranging those circumstances and making sure they're exactly right is where he comes in. Say you're a clumsy, overweight business executive like Albert Brenneman (Kevin James) and you're hopelessly in love with the beautiful heiress you work for (Amber Valletta), Hitch will make your dreams come true. He'll teach you how to make a strong first impression and he'll coach you through the first date, the first dance and the first kiss.
He might bring fairytale romance to his clients but there's not much love in Hitch's own life, just an endless stream of casual relationships and one night stands. He hasn't had a serious girlfriend in years and he's happy that way. But sometimes there's no avoiding Cupid's arrow and Hitch is struck when he spies the gorgeous Sara (Eva Mendes) in a Manhattan bar. She's a beautiful if somewhat cynical tabloid gossip columnist who prefers to keep men at arm's length. Hitch is instantly smitten. The trouble is, when he sets out to woo her, all his confidence and his knowledge of the opposite sex deserts him. The more he keeps trying to impress her, the more he keeps making an ass of himself.
The trailer for Hitch made me laugh so much that I feared I'd already seen all its best jokes but for once, thankfully, the trailer is merely a taster. This is one of the better mainstream romantic comedies I've seen recently. It has a great premise, it's well cast and, for at least the first hour, it's good, infectious fun. As a vehicle for Will Smith, it's the best he's had for some time. He looks like he's enjoying himself. He isn't sleepwalking, like he was through the likes of Wild Wild West, Men In Black II and I, Robot. Hopefully the box office success of Hitch will be enough to stop Smith wasting his career trying to reproduce Men In Black.
Hitch does unfortunately run into a couple of problems in its second hour. Problem one: why is there a second hour? Fluff like this needs to be short and sweet, an hour and forty minutes tops. It's time Hollywood directors became more ruthless in the editing room. Problem two: the final act is misjudged. We know there must be some sort of complication to split the couple up so they can get back together for a final clinch but the script has one of the lovers do something so unnecessarily vindictive that it's hard to believe the victim would ever want to see them again, except maybe in court. As misjudgements go, it's not quite in the same league as the jaw-dropper in director Andy Tennant's earlier movie Anna And The King, in which the romantic complication was the King having two people beheaded! This one doesn't ruin the film but it does sour the tone somewhat.
The secondary romance between lovesick Albert and his boss, Allegra plays out more satisfyingly, thanks largely to the appeal of the actors. Amber Valletta is a former model who played the vengeful ghost in What Lies Beneath and here she displays some of Cameron Diaz's bashful charm, while Kevin James, a sitcom star in America, comes very close to stealing the film from Will Smith. He may not be the first actor to play a funny nerd but he does it with a comic style that's all his own. Expect to see his dorky dance routine copied by drunk people at parties everywhere.