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Alex & Emma   C+

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Rob Reiner
Writer: Jeremy Leven
Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau, David Paymer.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Oh, how far the mighty have fallen. There was a time when thoughts of a new Rob Reiner movie carried the comedic promise of This Is Spinal Tap or the complicated emotion of When Harry Met Sally. But lately, the once-and-future Meathead has been in a downward spiral, unloading the melodramatic Ghosts of Mississippi and insipid The Story of Us on an unsuspecting and undeserving audience.

Alex & Emma is by no means a dramatic turnaround for the stumbling filmmaker, though it's certainly a baby step back in the right direction. Co-stars Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson tip the chemistry scales towards "cute," but while we love the leads, we hate the irrational movie they occupy. You can add half a letter grade to the rating if you let your heart dominate your good senses when watching fluffy romantic comedies such as these.

Alex (Wilson) has 30 days to settle $100,000 in gambling debts with the Cuban mob. Conveniently, he'll receive $125,000 from his publisher (Reiner, in a cameo) once he delivers his latest manuscript. Trouble is he can't get past the opening sentence.

Because two goons roast his laptop, Alex must enlist the services of a stenographer. Enter Emma (Hudson), a subtly beautiful charmer who must be independently wealthy because she agrees to help Alex despite his insistence he can't pay her until they've finished. Together they concoct a period-era page-turner that has hopeless romantic Adam Shipley (Wilson, again) juggling the hearts of wealthy Polina (Sophie Marceau) and the lady's levelheaded au pair (Hudson, again).

Reiner borrows from his own Princess Bride by shifting the action on-screen from reality to literary fantasy. Emma troubleshoots plot holes and gaps in character motivation as Alex dictates. Why couldn't she do the same for Reiner's film? Logic hiccups help Alex & Emma resemble a movie written on the fly. Temporarily suspend your brain and you won't ask how Alex's apartment morphs from rattrap to Pottery Barn catalogue, or how Emma pays her bills without a steady income.

The longer Alex and Emma tap dance around their inevitable courtship, the more aware we become of Jeremy Leven's fatigued and unoriginal screenplay. Wilson and Hudson can two-step with the best of them, but the "music" they sway to is repetitive and indistinguishable, a tune heard in countless romantic comedies of the past. In other words, we've seen this all before.

Which brings us back to Reiner. I'm not ready to dismiss any director with Stand by Me and Misery on his resume. But I am warming up to the fact that the man behind A Few Good Men might not have a few good films left in him.

Review published 06.18.2003.

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