Paper Man: Jeff Daniels Is Taunted by Ryan Reynolds

An artist-in-crisis piece run through a drab but quirk-conscious indie processor, Paper Man is everything a film like Lost in Translation fought not to be. Even its moments of dark mirth and the few grace notes between its stars wind up falsified by writer/directors Kieran and Michele Mulroney’s played-out tricks and plainly sentimental overtures. Deposited during the off-season at his Sag Harbor home by his surgeon wife (Lisa Kudrow), failing writer Richard (Jeff Daniels) is tasked with finishing that stubborn second novel. Joining him is a naysaying superhero named Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds), an imaginary friend who’s more crutch than muse. “Have a productive week,” is Kudrow’s deadly refrain: Richard is in the throes of a terrifying block, and will conjure a jinx if there’s not one handy. Enter Abby (Emma Stone), a local teenager who accepts Richard’s bogus offer of a babysitting gig; bonding, soup-making, and rejuvenative storytelling sessions ensue. Stone is radiantly endearing as the smart kid stuck in a shit town with shit dudes; trailed by her own personal Duckie (Kieran Culkin), she makes a host of narrative contrivances feel more natural than they should. The exorcism of Captain Excellent and reckoning of Richard’s marriage are even more uninspired by comparison.