Having conquered Independence Day, Will Smith has set his sights on Valentine’s Day. As the titular date doctor, Smith here exudes the sort of charm that makes everyone—men, women, puppies—melt. Alex “Hitch” Hitchens lives in a great New York apartment, earning an apparently pretty penny by teaching sad-sack-sorts how to court the women they desire. And I mean court. Hitch has a moral measure—his clients must honestly love and worship their targets, and they must earnestly want to make these vaunted objects happy. No one-night-stands or egotists allowed, as is demonstrated when Hitch literally slams the head of one such meanie into his fancy restaurant table for even suggesting that Hitch take his money. “My clients,” Hitch instructs, “Actually like women.”
Still, Hitch believes his work should be secret, and on top of that he has his own painful romantic history, all of which means that, for all his teaching prowess, he has no love life of his own. This will change during the course of Hitch, of course, even as he’s taking on a major instructional project, in the form of corporate accountant Albert (Kevin James). Albert first appears as Hitch scouts him, trying to eat his lunch while smearing mustard all over his pants and spraying his soda in an attempt to clean the pants. In other words, Albert is klutzy and looks hopeless, but Hitch sees in him the requisite sincerity and takes the job. That is, to help Albert win the gorgeous and extremely wealthy Allegra (super-model Amber Valletta), a client of Albert’s firm.
Hitch goes through the basics with Albert—he needs to stand out before Allegra, he needs to show her how he’s different from other caddish men who are only after her money, he needs to not trip over his own feet while do his flumpy white-man’s dance. Albert is fine with all this, though he’s quite pleased with the moves he’s perfected for his much-practiced dance (“I’m making the pizza,” as he swings his arms just so, or “This is the q-tip,” as he twists his hand at his head). “Nooo, nooo,” Hitch puts his foot down, “Don’t you bite your lip!” No more self-expression in quite that fashion. Albert goes along, trying hard during his first date with Allegra not to show too much (though he bursts into dance fits when she looks the other way, unable to contain himself to the strains of Usher’s “Yeah.”) That he’s occasionally undone by his own intense desire—when Allegra does notice him at the office, he’s struck speechless, and lucky that Hitch is hidden behind his door to gesticulate appropriate responses—only seems to make Albert’s love more ingratiating.
The same might not be said for Hitch, who develops his own crush during the proceedings. While Smith qua Smith overcomes any qualms you might have about Hitch (this helped by an obviously designed flashback that shows him as a klutz in college, who loses his first love and literally ends up standing in the rain because he’s too sincere and, well, she’s a ho), it’s still sometimes tiresome to watch his contrived pursuit of New York Standard gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes).
That’s not to say that Albert’s quest is not also contrived—it’s a romantic comedy, after all—but only that Hitch’s combination of expertise and endearing clumsiness makes use of a few too many clichés. And so, the first date is variously bungled (the first problem would appear to be the premise, a trip to Ellis Island and a speech about the legacy and joys of immigrancy, this coming from a black security guard who would do anything for Hitch, because Hitch has helped every man in the city with his romance issues, apparently).
The second is even stranger, as Hitch tries so hard to impress his date—who has brought him on a food rave with her editor Max (Adam Arkin)—Hitch eats shellfish, to which he has a severe allergy. Here his face swells up so he resembles the fish Smith played in Shark Tale, such that Sara must administer emergency Benadryl, over and over again. Now high, Hitch seems almost confessional, inspiring Sara to reveal her own childhood trauma (a sister nearly killed in an ice-skating accident). To which sad tale Hitch adds his own moral, inscrutable to Sara, but clear enough to you: “One minute you’re gliding along, the next minute you’re standing in the rain.”
The film is structured according to similar incongruities, the two romances intercut so they sort of complement one another, but also compete, undermining Hitch‘s rhythms. One or the other of the two movies it splices together might have been enough. Then again, as it winds down, taking too long and too many machinations to reach its inevitable happy endings, you see just why the two romances are necessary: without Hitch’s own hitch, it would have been just one more instance of the great, good magical Will Smith, not so mystical as Bagger Vance, but still helping the incompetent white guy achieve his end.