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Dustin Putman

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Alex & Emma (2003)
2 Stars

Directed by Rob Reiner
Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau, David Paymer, Rob Reiner, Chino XL, Lobo Sebastian, Cloris Leachman, Rip Taylor
2003 – 98 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 21, 2003.

With last spring's "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and now "Alex and Emma," Kate Hudson is doing what she can to replace Meg Ryan as America's romantic comedy sweetheart. Unfortunately, Hudson has yet to find a film within the genre that is worthy of her grace, charm, and sheer lovability. Directed by Rob Reiner (1999's "The Story of Us"), "Alex and Emma" wants to be the next "When Harry...Met Sally," pitting a seemingly mismatched couple together who may be perfectly right for each other, but it lacks the romantic spark and worldly knowledge of that former classic.

Writer Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) has found himself in hot water with a gang of loan sharks whom he owes $100,000 to. If he doesn't complete his next novel in thirty days and collect the monetary payment, he's dead. Enter Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), an opinionated stenographer Alex hires to help him finish it in time. As Alex orally spits out his book's words, Emma diligently types it for him. The novel's story, crosscut with the real-life action, tells of a teacher named Adam (Luke Wilson) who finds himself in a love triangle with the snooty aristocratic mother of his pupils, Polina (Sophie Marceau), and Polina's housekeeper, who starts out as the Swedish Ylva before segueing into the German Elsa, and then the American Anna (all played by Kate Hudson). Meanwhile, Alex and Emma find themselves caught up in an instance of life imitating art, as their gradually forming relationship starts to mirror that of Alex's characters.

Penned by no less than four screenwriters—Rob Reiner, Jeremy Leven (2000's "The Legend of Bagger Vance"), Adam Scheinman (2000's "Bait"), and Andy Scheinman—"Alex and Emma" suffers from a distinct staginess that the novel-come-to-life sections fail to compensate for. In fact, the sequences set within the novel are easily the weakest of the lot, burdened by a crummy, unimaginative premise that wouldn't hardly pass muster within a Harlequin romance. Meanwhile, the scenes between Alex and Emma offer a handful of nice laughs and winning moments, but because the majority of them are set within a dank-looking Boston loft, they feel more suited for an off-Broadway stage. When the movie finally opens up a little to portray Alex and Emma out on an idyllic day together, the proceedings are suddenly energized before settling in on a frustrating climax filled with misunderstandings and subsequent "break-up-and-get-back-together" scenes.

Just as she was in her crowning achievement, 2000's "Almost Famous," and recent box-office hit "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," Kate Hudson is the star attraction, and for good reason. Hudson's looks and mannerisms may be occasionally reminiscent of her mother, Goldie Hawn, but she has a naturalism and commanding presence all her own. As Emma, Hudson does as much as anyone could with an underwritten part. As her novel alter-egos, she garners easy laughs by putting on a stream of over-the-top foreign accents. As Adam, Luke Wilson (2003's "Old School") suffers when he is put in the same frame with the more radiant Hudson, but is blandly likable on his own. And as Polina, the woman who gets between them, Sophie Marceau (1999's "Lost & Found") is criminally wasted in a shrill, one-dimensional role that does her no favors.

It isn't that the viewer does not root for Alex and Emma to get together in the end; it's just that the story and plot developments they have found themselves in are so beneath their natural charisma and intelligence. Try as he might to recapture his "When Harry...Met Sally" glory days, Rob Reiner has fashioned "Alex and Emma" as a romantic comedy relying too much on the well-worn cliches of the genre to come off as anything but a marginally innocuous time-waster.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman