THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


What happened to Rob Reiner? At one point, it appeared as though he could do no wrong, turning out a consecutive string of great movies like This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Stand By Me, The American President and When Harry Met Sally… In recent years, though, the director has cranked out either overly self-righteous “I-wanna-win-an-Oscar” movies like Ghosts of Mississippi or ill-conceived “I-need-a-hit-badly” misfires like The Story of Us. Reiner’s newest film, Alex & Emma, is the worst of his career – a movie so bad, it makes 1994’s North look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Reiner has a small cameo as a book editor. In one scene, he says the following to a writer: “You have all this talent, but you’re pissing it away.” I don’t mean to be cruel, but I wonder if Reiner ever caught the irony of having himself make that statement.

In case you doubt how out-of-touch with reality Alex & Emma is, consider this premise. Luke Wilson plays Alex, a writer who owes money to some Cuban mobsters. They are forcing him to write a book so he can collect an advance and pay back the debt. (Uh-huh. Right. Okay. Alex decides he needs someone to whom he can dictate the book, so he hires stenographer Emma (Kate Hudson). Although she is ostensibly there to take dictation, Emma ends up influencing the book’s content.

The tale Alex spins is a romance set in New England circa 1924. A young man named Adam falls for a sophisticate named Polina (Sophie Marceau), but may lose her to a less appealing man with a lot more money. Alex imagines himself as the main character, and Emma eventually takes her place as an au pair whose nationality changes as she evolves into a major romantic interest for Adam.

Now I know what a lot of people will think, having seen the trailer and TV commercials for Alex & Emma. They will think it’s a cute romantic comedy not unlike Kate Hudson’s spring hit How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s important to know that this movie is not what it seems. To say it is neither romantic nor funny is only addressing half the issue. The film is a loop, repeating the same dull elements over and over. Alex imagines himself in his own story as he dictates it to Emma. Emma interrupts him, criticizing what he has written. Alex laboriously defends his artistic choices. And that’s the movie. The characters almost never leave Alex’s dreary apartment. They just repeat this cycle again and again and again. You might like to know something about these characters or why we’re supposed to believe they are attracted to each other. But all they do is sit around talking about the stupid book.

Part of the problem is that the story Alex is telling quite frankly sucks. It’s not the least bit interesting. And because it is not the least bit interesting, neither is the way Alex and Emma endlessly dissect it. I found myself squirming in my seat with impatience as these two dunderheads argued over this book that no one in their right mind would ever pay to read.

The rest of the movie is as predictable as it is infuriating. Emma keeps asking Alex if Polina is based on a real person. He claims not, but of course she is, and she shows up to cause trouble right as Emma and Alex are about to declare their repressed love for each other. This leads to an aggravatingly familiar group of scenes in which the two break up and make up. How many movies have pulled out this nonsensical formula? Too many. In fact, Alex & Emma isn’t even the only movie this weekend to do it; From Justin To Kelly does the exact same thing.

You name a level and Alex & Emma bombs on it. The writing is horrifically sloppy. The chemistry between the stars is non-existent at best. Reiner’s direction is leaden. This is a bad film any way you cut it. Alex & Emma is just DOA up on the screen; watching it was literally a painful experience for me. Almost as painful as if someone put a gun to my head and made me read Alex’s book.

( out of four)

Alex & Emma is rated PG-13 for sexual content and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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