Picks and Pans Review: Hitch

updated 02/21/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/21/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta, Adam Arkin

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Alex "Hitch" Hitchens is a love consultant in Manhattan. He earns big bucks teaching men—most of them ordinary-looking schmoes besotted with gorgeous, out-of-their-league gals—how to manipulate their way into the women's affections. "With no guile and no game, there's no girl," Hitch preaches. But when Hitch (Smith) tries to follow his own advice while romancing a wary journalist (Mendes, who snarls winningly), he ends up in trouble.

With Hitch, director Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama) has made a fitfully amusing film that lurches through for the first half. But when it becomes all too apparent that few of the folk onscreen bear much resemblance to real human beings and they're only marking time until the inevitable happy ending, one's patience wears thin. The problem? Hitch is as contrived as the behavioral advice its hero dishes out to his clients. It's chockablock with flimsy subplots, hard-to-swallow story twists and even a food fight, which neither flesh out characters nor move matters along. It mostly wastes the congenial talents of Smith (see story, page 91), who is stuck playing straight man to James. Meanwhile, the King of Queens star steals Hitch with his high-energy portrayal of a shy accountant in love with a glamorous heiress (Valletta). James makes his schlub the most sympathetic character in the film and, with this performance, moves to the front of the line of contenders vying for the coveted title—previous holders include John Belushi and John Candy—of America's Favorite Funny Portly Guy. (PG-13)

ROMANTIC COMEDY

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