Alex & Emma

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Kate Hudson and Luke Wilson in Alex & Emma.
Memo to screenwriters: When building a tale around the conceit that the characters are writing a story within your story, if you want to poke fun at the silly flakiness of the story being written, it is best to a) ensure that there is no silly flakiness to ridicule in your own story, or b) display an ironic awareness of your own flaky tale. (See Adaptation. Take lots of notes.)

Ignoring this advice will get you a movie like Alex & Emma - the tale of a writer and his stenographer that would be hard to swallow even if the filmmakers weren't continually inviting us to engage in literary criticism. When Luke Wilson's Alex writes a scene containing a contrivance that makes sense only as a way to move his plot along, we're supposed to laugh. When Alex & Emma's screenwriters do the same thing - say, when a pair of caricatured loan sharks tell Alex they'll kill him if he doesn't write a book in 30 days, then proceed to destroy his laptop; or when Alex makes up an incredible lie to tell his stenographer instead of just saying "novelist needs steno" - we're supposed to care about the event's dramatic ramifications.

There have been classic romantic comedies that started with a ludicrous premise and made us forget how dumb it was. They had irresistible banter, overpowering chemistry between the actors, or a string

Alex & Emma
Dir. Rob Reiner; writ. Jeremy Leven; feat. Luke Wilson, Kate Hudson, Rob Reiner, David Paymer, Sophie Marceau, Chino XL (PG)
of developments so zany that the setup seemed sane in comparison. Alex & Emma isn't one of those movies. The parallel storyline, in which Wilson and Hudson play characters in Alex's story, feels like the collective creation of a third-rate creative writing class; it never creates the spark that's meant to ignite a real-life romance between author and employee. What happens between the pair instead is a dull series of conversations about the book's plot, punctuated by generic romantic comedy events - the "getting to know you" walk in the park, for instance - which a movie like this should be lampooning rather than using with a straight face. Rob Reiner may have given us one of his generation's defining blends of laughs and love, When Harry Met Sally… but if this is his best follow-up, he should have quit when he was ahead. John Defore

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Spike, Eliza Thornberry, and Darwin in Rugrats Go Wild.
Rugrats Go Wild

Rugrats Go Wild
Dir. John Eng, Norton Virgien; writ. Kate Booutilier; feat. Michael Bell, Jodi Carlisle, Nancy Cartwright, Lacey Chabert (PG)

Standard kiddy fare teaming two popular Nickelodeon franchises, Rugrats Go Wild should please the target audience, but it's a drag for parents. The Rugrats and their families go on a cruise, but end up stranded on an island where the Wild Thornberrys are shooting their latest animal documentary. The big combo gimmick is that the Thornberrys girl, Eliza, who can talk to animals, converses with the Rugrats dog, Spike, who gets the voice of Bruce Willis. Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of original wit - lots of butt-sniffing jokes from the dog, lots of bug eating and diaper gags from the tykes - and even a theater full of kids didn't laugh that much. There are a couple decent songs written by Mark Mothersbaugh, but there's not much inspiration. The picture has the depressing tone of a corporate exercise, right down to the "synergy" of Willis singing Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life," on the cruise - just like in those cruise-line commercials! A bonus point, however, for using John Waters' "Odorama" cards in six scenes, though Odorama is now a property of Viacom, just like The Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys. — Tom Siebert



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