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Originally published February 11, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 11, 2005 at 9:49 AM

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Review

Smith, James make a good match in "Hitch"

Like many movie stars, Will Smith has crafted and perfected an on-screen persona that's instantly recognizable — a breezy charm, an...

Seattle Times movie critic

Like many movie stars, Will Smith has crafted and perfected an on-screen persona that's instantly recognizable — a breezy charm, an unruffled coolness, a guy who always knows the right thing to say. And except for occasional forays into more challenging fare (such as his fine, Oscar-nominated work in "Ali"), Smith tends to stay within this comfort zone. Like Tom Cruise for much of his career, Smith's breeziness can get predictable — you want him to stretch himself a little more, and he's used it in service of a few too many lame blockbusters. But in "Hitch," Andy Tennant's slight but enjoyable romantic comedy, he's nicely matched with the material; his ease creates the movie's pleasant hum.

Smith plays Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a sort of freelance Manhattan love shrink. Smooth and elegant (Smith wears clothes with the grace of a tall Fred Astaire), Hitch runs a thriving undercover business as a "date doctor" — a by-reference-only consultant on the art of wooing women. While busy assisting the shlubby-but-sweet accountant Albert (Kevin James), who's desperately in love with his glamorous client Allegra (Amber Valletta), Hitch receives a Cupid's arrow of his own in the form of Sara (Eva Mendes), a pretty gossip columnist who doesn't know his true identity.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 3 stars

"Hitch," with Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Michael Rapaport, Adam Arkin. Directed by Andy Tennant, from a screenplay by Kevin Bisch. 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language and some strong sexual references. Several theaters.

It's all standard Valentine's Day multiplex fare — mistaken identity, mismatched couples, unlikely love — and Tennant doesn't always have the right touch. The movie is overlong and often overfamiliar, particularly the scenes in which tough-career-gal Sara has to prove that she is vulnerable. And if the movie's trailer hadn't already completely killed the scene in which Hitch tries to teach Albert how to kiss, Tennant's heavy-handed direction of the moment — it's dragged out so long it's practically a movie on its own, on the presumption that audiences find two straight men kissing hilarious — closes the coffin lid.

But the winning cast lifts the movie into the pleasant-diversion category. James, best known for his work on television's "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "The King of Queens," is the biggest surprise: He and Smith turn out to be an inspired comedy team, finding freshness in a white-men-can't-dance routine that could easily have been a yawn. The portly James dances like the proverbial Jell-O on springs, happily engrossed in his own silliness, while Hitch watches in horror.

Faint praise it may be, but those looking for a cute date movie this weekend could do far worse. As could Smith, for that matter.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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