Feb 16, 2005 at 12:00 am

Will Smith’s action flicks aren’t the must-see films they used to be. That’s because Smith is usually one-dimensional once you get beyond his Hollyhood look. Who needs to see the same tough-guy Smith jump from movie to movie, with a new gun, twice a year?

Someone must have told him such, or he figured it out for himself, because his new departure with Hitch is funny as hell.

If the script weren’t so predictable, Hitch would be downright refreshing. Smith abandons the weapons and dusts off his old Fresh Prince persona. See, Smith gained fame through his jokester-next-door vibe. He was funny, boyishly charming and had a way of making people feel good while they were entertained. That’s why he won a Grammy as a rapper. It’s also why his sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, lasted almost a decade. When he leans on humor, he’s multi-dimensional. He makes mediocre movies good (Bad Boys) and makes good movies great (Six Degrees of Separation). He hasn’t put an action movie on his shoulders that way since Enemy of the State.

So, although Hitch is undeniably a chick flick, it’s a toss back to the ’90s-era Smith. This is a typical love story with a typical ending. Everyone falls in love by the end. But, as is the case with love, it develops atypically. Which is all good, as people don’t go to see romantic comedies and wonder how they end. It’s the soap opera in between that gets us.

Smith’s character, Alex Hitchens, is the “date doctor.” He teaches hapless guys how to win at love. His problem is that love is his job, not his passion. Until gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes) pops into his life, and throws his whole game off.

The two have great chemistry, a must for a good love story. Smith comes off like a clumsy, cute, more mature Fresh Prince. He accidentally kicks Mendes in the face while riding Jet Skis. He goes through a hilarious bout with a food allergy. Mendes, who’s usually great in action flicks and terrible in comedies, hangs with Smith all the way, squeezing in some solid sidekick moments. The unsung hero of the film, however, is Kevin James, whose insecure character Albert, falls for a famous starlet and solicits Hitchens to help him step up his mack game.

There are weak moments. A post-allergy scene between Smith and Mendes is supposed to be romantic, but it’s corny and contrived. And the climax is hard to swallow and over-the-top.

But all in all, Smith’s niche is right here. He should follow Hitch’s advice to Albert. This, the romantic comedy, is where he lives. He should stay here. If he does, he’ll force Jude Law and Hugh Grant to make room for him. If not, he’ll probably lose more and more fans with every new version of I, Robot. Hell, Wesley Snipes and Nicolas Cage can tell him that.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].