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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

'Alex & Emma' waste of time & money

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

ALEX & EMMA (Rated PG-13) One Star (Poor)

A weak romantic comedy about a writer forced to dictate a novel to a stenographer to pay off a gambling debt. Starring Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson. Directed by Rob Reiner. Warner Bros., 95 minutes.

It's rare that you find a comedy as forced and listless as "Alex & Emma," at least not one with so many major names attached.

But this Rob Reiner effort is like a comedy tortilla: flat and flavorless, not unlike one of writer Jeremy Leven's previous efforts, the colossal dud, "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

This film ostensibly is based on a true story about Fyodor Dostoevsky, who finds himself so deeply in debt that he was in fear of losing the rights to all of his work to his publisher as a result. He was given 30 days to complete a long-delayed new novel to erase his debt and hang on to his legacy.

So he hired a stenographer and dictated "The Gambler," settling his debt while creating a masterwork and discovering a wife/muse in the process (the stenographer). That story served as the basis of a historical fiction film about Dostoevsky called, appropriately, "The Gambler," starring Michael Gambon. Released in 1997, it's well worth your time to hunt it down on video.

"Alex & Emma," on the other hand, barely warrants the time spent looking at the ad in the newspaper. If you've seen the commercial on TV, you should demand a refund to compensate your loss of time.

Luke Wilson is Alex, a self-proclaimed brilliant novelist (with one book to his credit), who's blocked on his next one. He also happens to owe gambling debts to a pair of Cuban thugs, who, when told he'll get paid if he finishes his new novel, promptly destroy his laptop.

If they didn't, of course, there wouldn't be a movie. Otherwise, why would a penniless modern writer hire a stenographer?

As played by Kate Hudson, she's self-assured and snippy, the opposite of Alex, with his hypochondria and insecurity. When he starts dictating to her (something he's apparently never done before but can do fluently), she acts as an unsought editor, challenging his plotting and his portrayal of relations between the genders.

The story he tells is still "The Gambler," except now Alex and Emma are two of the characters and it has been changed to a Gatsby-esque 1924. With the wooden Wilson playing both central roles, it's no wonder this comedy tends to lumber. He's like a good-natured frat boy coaxed into the all-campus show for the fun of it, amused at the sight of himself in period costumes.

Hudson, with her feline eyes and sometimes-chirpy delivery, seems to know what to do with a punch line, but those, sadly, are in short supply. Supporting players Sophie Marceau and David Paymer look as though they're waiting for someone to let them in on the joke.

In the case of "Alex & Emma," they're in for a long wait.

Rated PG-13 for violence, mild profanity and sexual situations.