'Hitch' Turns On the Charm

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005

SOMETIMES big-time studio entertainment is done so well, you simply have to salute its corporate effectiveness. Besides, you could do a lot worse than enjoy "Hitch," a romantic comedy starring Will Smith, Eva Mendes and the gymnastically funny Kevin James.

Smith plays Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a love affair consultant in New York City who works very discreetly. He takes on personal referrals only. Hitch believes that no object of desire is too impossible. Case in point: His newest student, the fire-hydrant-shaped Albert (James), an accountant who is desperate to get romantic with his glamorous celebrity-client, Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta).

Albert can't eat lunch without wearing it. If he had a neck as a boy, he's certainly lost it now. Yet he dares to hope. Hitch -- a sort of Budweiser-era version of the Vicomte de Valmont from "Dangerous Liaisons" -- likes that spirit. He agrees to train the big guy.

Hitch's way of life is threatened when he meets Sara Melas (Mendes), a beautiful, hardworking gossip writer. Like him, she's romantically jaded. If Hitch knows every line available to the working lothario, she's heard them all. They're a big matchup waiting to happen, if either of them cared to engage. Turns out, they both do.

Stop me when you haven't heard pure formula. But that's precisely the mission, from Smith's machine-gun repartee to James's high-energy slapstick. It's as familiar as it is spit-polished. Smith, his comedic instincts honed to perfection from years of sitcom boot camp and such hits as "Men in Black," makes a smooth, roguish charmer. And Mendes, a sensual force of nature, makes his perfect sparring partner.

But it's James who earns the greatest commendation. He literally works himself into a sweat to steal every scene. There's nobody who wants your laughter more than this guy. Imagine a linebacker trained by the Bolshoi Ballet; that's James. (Watch him on the dance floor and you'll see what I mean.) He's bullishly elegant, and way before the end of this movie, you're convinced Allegra could find no better man. That's the charm of "Hitch." You know what's being fed to you and yet you slurp it down just the same.

HITCH (PG-13, 114 minutes) -- Contains some obscenity and sexual situations. Area theaters.

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