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Lightweight Romantic Comedy Coasts on Charm

There's not a lot of emotional honesty at the heart of Hitch, Will Smith's modestly amusing foray into the world of romantic comedy. As a leading man, Smith is goofy, endearing and even disarming as the story he's carrying races toward its ludicrous climax. But for all his charms, even Big Willie can't fully redeem a script that treats love not as a complicated, vexing and powerful emotion, but as a word to be tossed around lightly, often after a series of pratfalls and clever quips.

Even so, the movie almost works. Until the final frames, it is implausible, empty-headed entertainment that coasts on the good will engendered by its stars. Smith plays Hitch, the legendary "date doctor" who helps bumbling men land the women of their dreams. When he meets Albert (Kevin James of King of Queens fame), Hitch is presented with his most daunting challenge: He must mold a clumsy, overweight misfit into a stud capable of wooing a gorgeous tabloid queen. He succeeds, of course, all the while trying to mend his own romance with Sara (Eva Mendes), a prominent New York gossip columnist who can't seem to separate her career from her love life. Needless to say, after a series of trials and tribulations worthy of a sitcom, they all live happily ever after.

The premise of this feel-good story is that any man, with the right moves and a confident swagger, can sweep any woman off her feet. It's a sweetly innocent theory -- albeit a tad na´ve -- and Hitch's rambling, metaphor-laden monologues about the glory of love are occasionally heartwarming. (Imagine Bagger Vance strutting around Manhattan with Cupid's arrow.) There are plenty of laughs, too. While James is responsible for much of the movie's physical gags, relying heavily on the fat-guy-falls-down approach to comedy, Smith has a way of delivering even the most pedestrian lines with a zest that makes them amusing without being hammy.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Hitch loses its footing late in the game, sputtering toward an over-the-top finale that's a bit hard to stomach. Does everyone fall in love after the third date? In his world, they do. Does a series of "Three's Company"-style misunderstandings threaten to destroy their bliss? Of course. But in the end, these problems are all too easily solved, and everyone gets a happy ending -- with a bona fide music video thrown in just before the closing credits. It's fun to watch, but it's a bit too manipulative to be believed.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5