Just as advertising must shock or amuse its way past viewers' innate resistance to being sold a bill of goods, romantic comedies have to seduce or dazzle their way past an audience's acute familiarity with the genre's conventions. After all, the gods of cinematic romance dictate that the male and female leads will inevitably end up together, no matter how many obstacles they face. In that respect, romantic comedies and advertising overlap considerably, especially in Hitch, a slick new meta-romantic comedy selling a transparent yet strangely irresistible fantasy of upscale romance among the beautiful but guarded. The film shills shamelessly for a fairy-tale version of New York (in addition to Grey Goose vodka and Google, whose status as a verb as well as a noun gets quite a boost), but mainly it sells the formidable brand that is Will Smith, who produced the film and stars in a role that expertly exploits the immense likeability and non-threatening charm that's made him an icon. He's also found the perfect partner in Stuck On You's Eva Mendes, a radiant combination of nuclear sexuality and unforced sweetness.
Oozing movie-star magnetism, Smith plays a romantic consultant who specializes in helping sad-sack schlemiels score the women of their dreams. TV vet Kevin James co-stars as one of Smith's more desperate clients, a pudgy pencil-pusher out to win the heart of a wealthy celebutante (Amber Valletta) in whom Mendes has a borderline-obsessive professional interest. Because of her job as a gossip columnist, Mendes automatically suspects the worst in people—bachelors in particular—but Smith's dogged perseverance and near-scientific approach to l'amour wear down her defenses until the obligatory third-act complications conspire to tear the couple apart.
By making Smith a professional cupid of sorts, the filmmakers have pushed the mechanics of romance to the forefront, a move that pays off in a lively early Smith/Mendes exchange that doubles as flirtation and a sort of meta-commentary on flirtation. Smith's professional wisdom seldom transcends the kind of advice found in the average women's magazine, but there's precious little mystery to love in romantic comedies, where the path to romantic bliss generally runs a course as predictable as a mathematical equation. The real mystery in Hitch is how a comedy so formulaic can be so seductive. The answer has a lot to do with intangible qualities like chemistry and charisma, as well as the gullible heart's strange power to override the strenuous objections of the skeptical mind.