Alex & Emma Movie Review

After wishing I could claw my eyes out through "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and now "Alex and Emma" -- the two worst romantic comedies of the year to say the very least -- if I never see another Kate Hudson movie it will be too soon.

The bland but likable young actress has made nothing but stinkers since showing early promise as a slapstick comedienne in "200 Cigarettes" and playing a hesitant bride-to-be in "Dr. T and the Women" before peaking in 2000's "Almost Famous," starring as a rock-band groupie with a heart of gold. But in 2003, she's played two insufferable, irritating-passing-as-cute romantic leads in a row, in two insufferably dopey, counter-programming chick flicks.

February's "Lose a Guy" (up against male-targeted blockbusters "Shanghai Knights" and "Daredevil") featured Hudson as a superficial magazine relationship columnist who deliberately sets out to snare a boyfriend then drive him away -- and in the process has the same effect on any viewer without a fortified tolerance for women who act nauseatingly clingy, cutesy-poo and insecure.

In "Alex and Emma" (this week's alternative to "The Hulk"), she's a drab chatterbox stenographer who spends the whole picture second-guessing a writer's-blocked novelist (Luke Wilson), who has hired her to take dictation as he brainstorms his new book. As the writer's fictional plot unfolds in story-within-a-story fashion, Hudson keeps yanking the viewer out of the novel's on-screen scenes by questioning Wilson's every plot development -- while ironically never pointing out that his story is insufferably trite, cliché-riddled, boring, charmless period-romance nonsense.

But this cinematic train wreck is a hackneyed calamity even before Hudson makes her highly contrived entrance -- in which Wilson persuades her to work for him for 30 days in his photogenically dilapidated, hole-in-the-wall loft -- even though he can't pay her and even though she thinks he's a creep.

The movie opens with a ham-fisted introduce-the-gimmick episode in which Wilson (who was in "Old School," another of this year's worst) is comically roughed up by Cuban loan sharks coming to collect on a $100,000 loan. But instead of asking for their money, they demand to know how his new book is coming. When it's finished, you see, Wilson gets $125,000 from his publisher -- as if these guys care where he gets the money.

The author buys himself a month and hires Hudson to do take down his story as it evolves. As she incessantly questions his (admittedly poor) creative judgment, they fall in love -- although with the complete absence of chemistry between the actors, this point comes across only because nothing else could happen in a movie so transparently artificial.

The writer-stenographer concept for romantic comedy tension isn't the problem -- in fact, the premise is the only whiff of imagination in the entire film. But everything else is a calamity -- from the perfunctory, plot-device-driven script by Jeremy Leven ("The Legend of Bagger Vance") to the blasé direction by Rob Reiner (who was once comically astute enough to have directed "Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "When Harry Met Sally"), to the technical ineptitude (every set looks like a community theater soundstage, complete with obvious, awful, over-gelled stage lighting), to the overly-staged scenes that take place therein and elsewhere (Wilson and Hudson eat ice cream while strolling past a montage of Boston landmarks).

While Wilson's ambling, off-the-cuff delivery style provides "Alex and Emma" a very few scattered, shining seconds of personality, 99 percent of his performance feels untethered yet blatantly scripted, and he's thoroughly unconvincing as a novelist. Clomping through most of his dictation dialogue (not a word of it sounds like truly spontaneous brainstorming), it almost seems as if he's reading his lines from notes he'd cribbed on his palm.

Hudson is even more lacking in charisma, doing little more than harping at Wilson's bad writing while making even more pedestrian suggestions of her own.

But the worst character in the film is the novel itself -- a shopworn, flaccid, unredeemably flawed mimicry of 1920s social-class comedy. Wilson also plays the book's main character, a wishy-washy failed writer who falls for a snooty, sultry French aristocrat flapper (Sophie Marceau) while tutoring her children. Meanwhile, the kids' au pair -- who keeps changing nationalities and personalities as the novelist's creative juices wax and wane -- is played by Hudson in an increasingly shrill parade of bad accents that render her dialogue incomprehensible.

The story-within-a-story is so phony and inconsistent that, for example, the au pair -- who is, of course, in love with the tutor -- inexplicably performs the duties of cook and server for the aristocrats' dinners (who's watching the kids?), then is invited on picnic double-dates with them, as if any blue-blood would be caught dead socializing with the help.

There is not a single moment of sincerity or charm in either of the stories in "Alex and Emma" -- which adds insult to injury when Reiner himself shows up at the end, playing Wilson's publisher and declaring the novel "brilliant."

For a few minutes in the last reel, "Alex and Emma" looks as if it might atone for its obtuseness by veering off toward an unconventional ending. But the idea is literally abandoned before our eyes when Wilson decides to give his book a pat happy ending -- ironically ruining any chance this picture ever had of being anything but a total fiasco.

Comments

Alex & Emma Rating

" Zero "

Rating: PG-13, WIDE: Friday, June 20, 2003

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