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.
Daniels as blocked writer.
Opens at Metro, Fri., May 7. Rated R. 110 minutes.