Considering the baffling speed with which back stories are skimped, threats are exchanged, and characters are plopped almost randomly into scenes within the first few minutes of Rob Reiner’s gimmicky Alex & Emma, you’d think (and hope) the film was going to clock in at sitcom-length. No such luck. After Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) is mysteriously roughed up by two Cuban thugs, he hires a stenographer, Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson), to transcribe his latest romantic novel. As soon as Emma warms up to Alex, both their creative juices start churning and the parallels between the couple and Alex’s “fictional” characters are summoned at near deadening will. Of course, Reiner would like to situate the film as the ultimate meta-comedy, but a grueling seminar for screenwriters with writer’s block is more like it. Because Emma is so forthright, she freely gives her two cents whenever Alex writes himself into a dead end. This permits all sorts of battle-of-the-sexes banter, but because Hudson and Wilson are so darn likeable their scenes together are nowhere near as cloying as the life-imitating-art trajectory of the film’s latter half or the self-congratulatory tone of the whole thing. Alex creates a fictional island location for his characters but suggests a real-life person founded the island. Emma calls Alex on it, telling him that he’s allowing a “perversion of history.” Indeed, the overall effect is not like unlike watching a film with the DVD commentary track already incorporated into the script. By the time an eager-to-please Reiner cons himself and his audience out of a bittersweet ending, you may want him to check into a writing workshop for wannabe Ernst Lubitsches in search of their missing magic touches.
Alex & Emma isn't a pretty film to look at but this widescreen transfer tries to pick up some of the slack. The New York City scenes are pretty bland but fare better than the Gatsby past-though Luke Wilson's skin never looked as good as it does here, Sophie Marceau is a virtual edge halo magnet. As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, it's strictly Woody Allen grade.
Alex & Emma didn't make enough money to justify anything more than the theatrical trailer and feature-length audio commentary by Luke Wilson and director Rob Reiner included here. Fans of the film (are there any?) will likely be disappointed by the commentary track, not necessarily because of the all the dead air but because Reiner and Wilson don't really seem interested in discussing the meta aspects of the script.
Director Rob Reiner describes the film's past as a "rich kind of Gatsby world." Yeah, riiiiiiiiight.