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Rob Reiner
Kate Hudson, Luke Wilson, Rob Reiner, Paul Willson, David Paymer, Sophie Marceau, Alexander Wauthier, Leili Kramer, Rip Taylor
Writing Credits:
Jeremy Leven

Is it love ... or are they just imagining things?

Alex (Luke Wilson) is an author whose writer's block and gambling debts have landed him in a jam. In order to get loan sharks off his back, he must finish his novel in 30 days or wind up dead. To help him complete his manuscript he hires stenographer Emma (Kate Hudson). As Alex begins to dictate his tale of a romantic love triangle to the charming yet somewhat opinionated stenographer, Emma challenges his ideas at every turn. Her unsolicited yet intriguing input begins to inadvertently influence Alex and his story and soon real life begins to imitate art.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$6.111 million on 2310 screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.208 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $27.95
Release Date: 12/23/2003

• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner and Actor Luke Wilson
• Trailer

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Alex & Emma (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 10, 2003)

Remember back when Rob Reiner landed on the “A”-list of directors? With hits like Stand By Me and When Harry Met Sally, he established himself as a filmmaker of popular flicks. Later efforts like Misery and A Few Good Men earned financial success as well as award recognition. The latter marked the sole Oscar Best Picture nomination for a Reiner flick and really was his apex as a moviemaker. Not only did it get that critical recognition, but also with a gross of $141 million, it easily remains his biggest box office hit.

And then came North. Savaged by critics and ignored by moviegoers, the 1994 dud earned a pathetic $7 million. Reiner still hasn’t seemed to really recover from this catastrophe. 1995’s The American President did decently with a take of $65 million, but none of his three films since then have earned more than $27 million.

Chalk up 2003’s Alex & Emma as Reiner’s latest disappointment. Released in June up against The Hulk in a counter-programming move, the decision flopped, as did the movie. The romantic comedy mustered only $6 million its opening weekend – a tenth of The Hulk’s gross – and never recovered; it ultimately topped out with a poor $14 million overall take.

Did Alex & Emma deserve such a lousy fate? No, though I can’t claim it merited a great deal of attention. The film introduces us to struggling writer Alex Sheldon (Luke Wilson). A bad gambler, he owes money to some low lifes; if he doesn’t pay them $100,000 within 30 days, they’ll kill him. He needs to finish his barely-started novel to get the bucks, but he finds himself with terrible writer’s block.

They torch his laptop, so he pretends to run a law firm to hire a stenographer. Emma Dinsmore (Kate Hudson) initially resists his request, but when she finds out more about his past work, she agrees to work for him. This starts poorly, but Alex starts to develop the tale when Emma gives him grief.

From there Alex follows two storylines. While we watch modern-day Alex and Emma get to know each other, we also see the tale of Adam Shipley (Wilson again) in 1924. Hired as a tutor for the children of sexy Polina (Sophie Marceau), he immediately falls in love with her, though he has a competing suitor in John Shaw (David Paymer). Another element interferes when Alex starts to fall for au pair Ylva/Elsa/Eldora/Anna (Hudson – modern-day Alex continually changes his mind about her nationality and character).

Though one might expect the modern-day plot to dominate, in reality the two tales generate roughly equal screentime. That makes Alex somewhat unusual, but it creates flaws as well. Mostly that happens because it feels like a crutch. One gets the feeling that the filmmakers couldn’t find enough of interest to generate from the modern-day story, so they beefed up the fictional tale to fill the flick’s running time. It only lasts a mere 96 minutes anyway, and it seems pretty badly padded. The dual storylines are somewhat clever but ultimately fairly pointless.

That doesn’t mean Alex fails to deliver any entertainment. In reality, it provides a generally watchable and moderately likable affair. A lot of that comes from the charm of its leads. Usually Wilson comes across as terribly bland and wan, but he actually manages some decent personality here. Not enough to make me think of him as real leading man material, but at least he shows a sense of life and verve during much of the film.

Hudson continues to channel memories of her mother Goldie Hawn, and I mean that in a positive way. She comes across as likable and charming. Hudson displays some of Goldie’s ditzy side at times, but she doesn’t rely on that tone, and she makes Emma a fairly sweet and endearing character.

Ultimately, Alex & Emma proves to be generally entertaining, but it doesn’t go beyond that. It attempts to provide something quirky and unusual, but it really hews pretty closely to the usual romantic comedy formula. Alex & Emma creates a moderate diversion but fails to form anything terribly compelling.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Alex & Emma appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Most of the movie looked pretty solid, but I felt it displayed too many concerns for a brand-new flick to merit a grade much above average.

Sharpness usually seemed fine. A few interiors displayed slight softness, but those examples occurred infrequently. Instead, most of the shots came across as nicely distinctive and well defined. I noticed no concerns with jagged edges or shimmering, but some noticeable edge enhancement appeared at times. Source defects were modest but heavier than expected for a flick from 2003. I noticed artifacting at times, and a few instances of specks also appeared.

Colors varied dependent on the setting. The modern material presented fairly natural hues, whereas the novel’s images were lusher and displayed a moderate golden tint. Both seemed very well developed and dynamic. Black levels seemed acceptably deep and dense, but low-light shots tended to be somewhat thick. Shadows appeared a bit too heavy, though not excessively so. Overall, Alex & Emma remained consistently watchable and usually presented a nice image, but it showed too many issues to earn a mark above a “B-“.

Alex & Emma offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that exemplified the minor charms of the “comedy mix”. I don’t expect this sort of romantic comedy to give me something to show off my system, but the soundfield for Alex seemed awfully lackluster nonetheless. The front channels heavily dominated the piece, and they only sporadically offered much life of their own. Music provided pretty good stereo imaging, but effects didn’t spread out all that well. The occasional example of effects popped up on the side, and little more occurred in this subdued piece.

In regard to the surrounds, I suppose they added some light reinforcement of the music and effects. However, I felt hard-pressed to cite any examples where I definitely noticed audio from the rear. If support occurred, it remained essentially unnoticeable. Even the film’s smattering of opportunities for greater audio enhancement passed limply. A train passed by but stayed firmly stuck in the front.

Although the scope of the track appeared bland, the quality of the audio was fine. Speech came across as concise and well defined. I discerned no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility. Music showed good range and dynamics, as the score was bright and distinct throughout the movie. Despite their small role in the presentation, effects also seemed clean and accurate. The mix featured acceptable bass response and clarity overall. It simply failed to ever present an engaging soundfield, so it earned only a lackluster “B-“.

Seriously light on supplements, Alex & Emma presents only the film’s theatrical trailer and an audio commentary. We hear from director Rob Reiner and actor Luke Wilson, both of whom sit together for their running, screen-specific piece. Past commentaries from Reiner have tended to be listless and uninformative. The pairing with Wilson definitely adds some energy to Reiner’s demeanor, though the track still suffers from a few problems.

Reiner dominates and seems much peppier and more active than normal. He gets into topics related to elements of the production and story telling. Most of the track seems anecdotal in nature, as Reiner comments on various aspects of the shoot like the origin of the names Dimwit and Low-Boy. Wilson echoes some of these tales and gives us insight into shooting love scenes and other parts of the flick. Too much of the track suffers from happy talk, and the pair occasionally tend to simply narrate the story. In addition, more than a few empty spaces appear, though these cause far fewer problems than during prior Reiner commentaries. Overall, the piece mixes good with bad to create a generally informative and entertaining piece.

Though fairly likable, Alex & Emma never rises above that level. It presents some reasonably charming performances from its leads and keeps us acceptably entertained, but nothing stronger or more distinctive than that emerges. The DVD presents fairly lackluster picture and sound plus a small roster of extras highlighted by a decent audio commentary. Alex & Emma might make a nice “date night” rental but it lacks enough personality for me to recommend more than that.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4444 Stars Number of Votes: 9
4 3:
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