People love it when their movie stars are cocky and proud of it. This helps explain the worldwide popularity of Will Smith, a likeable but unabashedly smug rapper-turned-sitcom-comedian-turned-A-list actor. Smith’s ascension to box-office juggernaut is no doubt partially due to his jovial personality and unconventional good looks, but it can also likely be traced to the public’s preference for big-screen thespians to project self-satisfaction rather than humble humanity. Nonetheless, while the actor’s magnanimous mega-watt charm exudes a whole lotta self-love, it also fits comfortably within the confines of Andy Tennant’s Hitch, a middle-of-the-road romantic comedy in which Smith gets to embody what the filmmakers believe is the ideal catch: a tough guy disgusted by misogyny (no “hit it and quit it” for him), a caring, sensitive friend who isn’t wimpy or gay, and a creative romancer who understands the importance of listening rather than staring at his companion’s cleavage.
Smith plays Hitch, a “date doctor” who, while remaining anonymous to most of NYC’s swinging singles world, helps dorky men successfully woo their dream girls. He’s a didactic mack daddy who spouts truisms (often directly to the camera) about the attainability of all women (“Any man has a chance to sweep any woman off her feet—he just needs the right broom”) and the importance of first kisses (apparently, eight out of 10 women think they reveal everything about a guy’s future prospects). Smith’s Hitch is awash in Big Willie Style, from the playful sarcasm to the suave machismo, and his customers—the most prominent of which is Albert Brennaman (Kevin James, from TV’s The King of Queens), a junior accountant in love with celebrity heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta)—eagerly eat up his advice. That Hitch radiates brazen egomania doesn’t seem to perturb the desperate men and women he counsels, but director Tennant—sensing cooler-than-thou overload—wisely counteracts Smith’s scene-consuming mugging with James, a roly-poly doofus whose spastic physical comedy becomes the film’s amusingly awkward saving grace.
Hitch’s supposed character hitch is that, although he has all the answers for his clients, a former dumping at the hands of his college sweetheart has left him afraid to commit. And when he begins to court the withdrawn Sara Melas (Eva Mendes)—a gossip reporter who, unlike Hitch, delights in professionally exploiting infidelity—his inability to open up and trust in the beautiful power of love becomes a potential impediment to their future happiness. This premise, however, has a considerable flaw—Hitch’s warmth and compassion toward Sara never contain even a trace of coldness or emotional reservation. Then, when Sara finally discovers that Hitch is the infamous dating doctor who may have set up her best friend with a sleazy businessman (one guess as to whether he’s guilty as charged), she flies into a rage that—considering her less-than-savory profession as a celebrity muckraker, and Smith’s prior sincerity and sweetness—is totally out of proportion and out of line. Naturally, romantic comedy conventions dictate that Hitch—no matter how perfect he’s been leading up to the second-act crisis, and despite Sara’s unreasonable bitchiness—must ultimately provide his unhappy love interest with a heartfelt apology. But by the time Smith offers up his unnecessary race-against-the-clock mea culpa, Hitch‘s cupid’s arrow has already veered way off course.