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'Alex & Emma'

No fizz in 'Alex & Emma'

Friday, June 20, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kate Hudson is a luminous screen presence -- except in "Alex & Emma," an oddly flat romantic comedy that is like a hot-air balloon that bounces off the ground a couple of times but never takes flight. In the movie, Hudson's character makes reference to a "somewhat awkward beginning," which applies here along with a somewhat awkward middle and slightly better but still underwhelming end.

'Alex & Emma'

RATING: PG-13 for sexual content and some language.

STARRING: Kate Hudson, Luke Wilson

DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner


Hudson plays Emma Dinsmore, a brunette Boston stenographer hired by desperate writer Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson) to help him complete a novel in 30 days. He owes his publisher a book but he also owes Cuban loan sharks $100,000; if he doesn't pay up, they will kill him. After the thugs set his laptop on fire, he decides to hire a stenographer who thinks she's been summoned by a law firm but finds a writer in a dingy apartment.

After some false starts, Alex begins dictating his novel and occasionally arguing with the forthright Emma about his character and word choices. His book is set in the 1920s on a fictional island where a man named Adam Shipley (also played by Wilson) has been hired to tutor the children of a beautiful French woman, Polina (Sophie Marceau).

Adam is instantly smitten, even as he repeatedly collides with Polina's au pair, a woman whose name, hair color, personality and nationality change from Swedish to German to Spanish to American (all played by Hudson, in the one chance she gets to sparkle and bubble). Art imitates life and then life imitates art in "Alex & Emma," with strands about gambling, destiny, lost loves and second chances -- also known as rewrites.

The usually reliable Rob Reiner directs "Alex & Emma," written by Jeremy Leven, who adapted Nicholas Sparks' "The Notebook," wrote "The Legend of Bagger Vance" and wrote and directed "Don Juan DeMarco." It's loosely based on the story behind Dostoevsky's "The Gambler," but Wilson doesn't burn with obsession when he's at the roulette wheel, and he and Hudson lack the sort of heat she shared with Matthew McConaughey in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."

The movie is too drawn out and seems either stagnant and claustrophobic, when the pair start working in his apartment, or silly and overheated, when the novel is being visualized. On paper, "Alex & Emma" seems to have the elements of a winner; on screen, it doesn't.

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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