The number of boring, uninspired studio pictures hitting today’s multiplexes is getting depressing. To add insult to injury, many of these mind-numbing creations come from formerly talented writers, directors and actors. Last week saw Hollywood Homicide, a tired, lazy buddy-cop-action-comedy written and directed by Ron Shelton, the considerable talent behind Bull Durham and Tin Cup. This week it’s Rob Reiner’s turn. His snoozer, the romantic comedy Alex & Emma, almost makes Shelton’s film look good. Almost.
Written by Jeremy Leven and loosely based on Dostoevsky’s short novel The Gambler, the film stars Luke Wilson as Alex Sheldon, a novelist suffering a bad case of writer’s block. If he doesn’t get his next book finished — make that, started and finished — in the next 30 days, he won’t get the $100,000 he needs to repay a couple of Cuban loan sharks.
After the thugs trash his laptop, Alex decides to hire stenographer Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson) to type as he dictates his novel. Despite being wary of Alex’s intentions — he initially claims to be hiring her for a job at an up-market law firm — she takes the job.
The novel, set in early twentieth-century New England, involves a young man named Adam Shipley (also portrayed by Wilson) who is hired to tutor the children of exceedingly sexy French widow Polina (Sophie Marceau). Adam’s passion for Polina blinds him to the possibility of a relationship with the children’s Swedish au pair, Ylva (Hudson). Various revisions of the novel recast her as German, then Spanish and then American, all of them played by Hudson.
No shrinking violet, Emma dispenses her unsolicited opinions freely, criticizing not only Alex’s characters and plot developments but also the male propensity for falling in love with beautiful, unattainable women rather than with the more ordinary sort who hover nearby. No one in the audience will be surprised when the prickly relationship slowly begins to soften … until, that is, Polina’s flesh-and-blood counterpart (Marceau again) shows up at Alex’s door.
Good romantic comedies rely on perfectly delivered witty dialogue, brisk pacing and engaging characters. Alex & Emma has none of these. It’s like an amateur theater production, and Reiner’s setup is a cartoonish mad dash. Hudson, so good in Almost Famous, substitutes squinted eyes and a scrunched-up nose for acting; the normally reliable Wilson seems out to lunch or embarrassed.
Worse, there is absolutely no chemistry between the two stars. (Marceau is the only actor who emerges with her reputation unsullied.) Reiner’s staging of scenes is pedestrian, with very traditional, over-the-shoulder shots alternating between Alex’s and Emma’s perspectives.
Films like this seem to be a dime a dozen now, as if directors, actors and writers are just going through the motions, figuring audiences won’t notice. You can’t enter a multiplex these days without being hit in the face — and wallet — with disappointing, undemanding, hackneyed material like this.