Alex & Emma (2003) / Romance-Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and some language          
Running Time: 96 min.

Cast: Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Sophie Marceau, Rob Reiner, David Paymer, Chino XL, Lobo Sebastian  
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Jeremy Leven, Adam Scheinman, Andrew Scheinman, Rob Reiner

Review published June 23, 2003

Alex & Emma is Rob Reiner's first film in over four years, and after crafting some of the better popular entertainment films of the 80s, it now seems that he might have lost his golden touch.  After the disappointment that was The Story of Us, most directors might shame themselves into a half decade of obscurity too, in the hopes they could bounce back with a polished winner.  Reiner's latest creation is anything but polished.  In fact, it looks like a small budget indie film starring a couple of bigger names in romantic comedies, and it plays like a typical Hallmark Entertainment production made for television. 

Part of the problem comes from the casting.   Sure, if you were to run off names of people who typically star in romantic comedies these days, it wouldn't take too long to come up with the names Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson.  However, both of them generally star in rather innocuous, somewhat lowbrow romantic comedies, and this works against the thrust of the overall film.  What should have been a smart and elegant romantic story to sweep you off your feet is frequently undercut by Hudson's hammy attempts to get cute, mixed with Wilson's constant need to look constipated.  A whimsical tale with mundane actors, cheapening a fantasy plot with contrived shenanigans.  The film already looked cheap enough.

Luke Wilson is Alex, a bestselling writer of romantic comedy novels, who finds himself in a pickle when two large Cuban men threaten his life because he can't pay back the money he borrowed due to a gambling addiction.  He offers them double their money to let him live, and they accept, knowing he will get at least that once he turns in his manuscript for his next book.  The problem is, he has writer's block, which the men seek to unblock by giving him a 30 day limit on the payment.  Knowing he doesn't have enough time to write it all down, he hires Emma, a stenographer (Hudson) to transcribe the book as he thinks it aloud.  However, Emma doesn't always like the way the story goes, and she isn't afraid to speak her mind.

Recommending romantic comedies is always a tricky thing, as some people love all of them and others see little value in what is always oft-told, predictable fare.  Generally, I try to narrow it down to two basic questions: Is it funny and is it romantic?

Although it's easy to watch, there aren't many big laughs in Alex & Emma to recommend if you're seeking a good comedy.  Most of the humor value comes in the form of the two cute leads doing their best to be even cuter, probably in an attempt to cover up the forced and phony situations that necessitate the mechanical plot.  As a romance, it's just as thin, with not much in the way of sparks between the leads, and little in the way of surprises.

With better production value and more talented actors, Alex & Emma would have had a chance to be much better, as the high-concept story lends well to intriguing developments in both stories (reportedly based on the creation of Dostoyevsky's "The Gambler"), the fictionalized and the "real-life."  Yet, Reiner plays to be "more crass, less class," and instead we get a imitation tale of love that rings hollow and mundane. 

If you need to fill up 90 minutes of your life with something that's not too heavy, and you like the two leads, perhaps Alex & Emma will find a receptive audience in you.  It has its moments, it just doesn't have enough of them to take it to the level that Reiner clearly aspires to.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo