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A lot of men may think they have what it takes to get a woman's attention, but very few actually know what they're doing — as with most things, it usually looks like they didn't bother to read the instructions. That's where "The Date Doctor" comes in. Alex 'Hitch' Hitchens tells people he's a "consultant," although only a small circle of clients actually know his profession: Hitch helps men meet women. At first glance he may come across a pick-up professor. In fact, Alex coaches his clients through three dates, after which they are expected to build upon the foundation of a lasting relationship. Hitch has been so successful that he's never advertised his services (some consider him an urban myth), relying strictly upon referrals. But he quickly realizes that Albert Breneman (Kevin James) is a potential masterpiece in the making — the awkward, overweight, bespectacled accountant has developed a relentless crush on one of his firm's clients, jet-set heiress Allegra Cole (Amber Valletta). Albert is the first to admit his prospects are hopeless, offering to throw in the towel during his first meeting with The Date Doctor. But for Hitch, Albert embodies one of his foremost principles: Given the right preparation, any guy has a chance with any woman. Meanwhile, in the midst of his perorations, Hitch puts his own advice into action by wooing Manhattan gossip columnist Sara Melas (Eva Mendes), unaware that she soon will launch her own exposé on New York's elusive romance expert. Directed by rom-com specialist Andy Tennnant (Ever After, Sweet Home Alabama), 2005's Hitch is a mixed-bag genre entry, offering several fresh, funny turns as well as perfunctory nods to formula. At least the movie's set-up means that nobody will meet cute — instead, like in real life, people meet simply because they want to (and sometimes desperately so). The eponymous title plays on Hitch's job, which is what the movie is about — if Hitch artfully composes chance encounters and romantic dates to lend his male clients a bit of confidence, in the end it's so they will find love and not merely sex. The script offers a note-perfect starring role for Will Smith, who is always stronger with light comedy than in his better-known action films (or for that matter, his few stabs at dramatic leads). As Hitch, his clever patter and smooth charm combine to create a salesman who wins his clients' trust by a boundless belief in them. Smith is well-paired with Kevin James, a TV star who makes his big-screen debut here — playing off each other's personas, the duo's scenes bristle with well-timed comedy (particularly when exchanging some dance-floor strategy). If only the ladies on screen were nearly as appealing — James' romance with Amber Valletta is sparse and generic, while Smith doesn't generate much chemistry with Eva Mendes, eventually reducing both plot threads into routine rom-com fare. Were Hitch simply about Will Smith date-coaching Kevin James, it would border on a minor comic masterpiece. As it stands, the film is still worth spinning for the highlights, even when it's trying to be too many things at once. Sony/Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Hitch offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include five brief featurettes, three deleted scenes, a gag reel (3 min.), a music video, and previews for other Sony titles. Keep-case.

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