Alex & Emma

on June 20, 2003 by Sheri Linden
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"Alex & Emma" is the kind of Hollywood formula romance that announces where it's going in its first moments. That its two leads are destined for each other is apparent in the film's very insistence on the friction between them. It's a conceit that worked in bygone days, when scripts sizzled and actors had style to spare. But the whole point of such movies--the twists and turns on the way to the inevitable happy ending, and the sparks that fly between boy and girl--registers in only the most muted of ways here, however appealing Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson may be. Director Rob Reiner, who has yet to match the comic brilliance of "This Is Spinal Tap" or the dramatic vigor of "Stand By Me," misses the mark with this film, which is being marketed as a descendant of the vastly overrated "When Harry Met Sally." The premise of Jeremy Leven's script is promising, and there are nice, intermittent touches, but the dead-on-arrival humor in the early going might tempt viewers to send up flares.

Wilson stars as Alex, a writer who must dictate his second novel to a stenographer (Hudson) after Cuban thugs, to whom he's in deep debt, destroy his computer. In his nicely dilapidated garret (Boston looks like a North American Paris in this confection), the two hash out a period romance, with Emma questioning character motivation and plot as she tries to bring the story down to earth. However obvious the parallels between the novel and the main action, the film starts to come alive when it alternates between present-day Boston and 1924 St. Charles, a fictional Martha's Vineyard, with Hudson and Wilson playing characters in the work-in-progress and Sophie Marceau and David Paymer striking the right note as literary creations.

The novel-within-the-film is slightly more involving than the contemporary story and boasts terrific costume and production design. Hudson gets to vamp as a series of au pairs of varying ethnicity, while the Cuban thugs (Chino XL, Lobo Sebastian) are transposed to flamenco-dancing loan sharks. As the writing takes off, the lovers-to-be warm to each other, but as with everything else here, from the gentle mocking of literary conventions to Alex's quirky character flaws, the chemistry that develops is temperate at best. The Norah Jones song that closes the film is as sure a signal as any of the film's middle-of-the-road sensibilities. Starring Kate Hudson, Luke Wilson, Sophie Marceau, David Paymer, Rob Reiner, Francois Giroday, Lobo Sebastian, Chino XL and Rip Taylor. Directed by Rob Reiner. Written by Jeremy Leven. Produced by Rob Reiner, Jeremy Leven, Alan Greisman, Todd Black and Elie Samaha. A Warner Bros. release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language. Running time: 95 min

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