Has the one-time hitmaker gone too political? Too Hollywood? Could a divided focus explain this gifted helmer’s recent string of turkeys?

Memo to: Rob Reiner

From: Peter Bart

re: The Rob Syndrome

I don’t want to rub salt in the wound, Rob, but it’s finally time to ask the question: What’s gone wrong?

“Alex and Emma” is a stiff. Every filmmaker has a miss now and then, but this marks your fourth since 1994. Isn’t this the moment to yell “time out”?

Let’s turn back the clock, Rob. You’re the man who gave us a string of pics that weren’t just good, they were superb entertainment. How can the man behind “This Is Spinal Tap,” “Stand By Me,” “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “A Few Good Men” settle for “Alex and Emma”?

Even your friends and colleagues are bewildered, Rob.

And the ailment seems to be contagious. You’ve been a principal of the production boutique Castle Rock for some 15 years and now it, too, is in a rut.

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Again, this was a company that could do no wrong. When it started its TV label, its first show was “Seinfeld.” That’s when you know you’re riding the magic carpet. But someone took the carpet to the wrong cleaners. The once-potent boutique has been marginalized into a small development company.

These questions are not advanced to embarrass anyone or to spotlight failure, but there are some interesting issues at play here — issues involving the state of the industry as well as the mixed blessings of success.

With this in mind, let me list some of the explanations advanced by industry sages regarding what has become known as the Rob Syndrome:

  • You’re too Hollywood. The theory here, Rob, is that you’re so much a part of the Hollywood establishment that you’ve somehow lost touch with your filmgoing constituencies.

  • You’re too political. According to this school of thought, Rob, you’ve become so interested in political issues that you’ve lost your passion for filmmaking.

  • You can’t adjust to tentpole economics. The only way to ensure survival, some argue, is for filmmakers in your age group (you’re 58) to turn out an occasional “Spider-Man” or “X-Men,” thus proving your connection with the great teen audience out there. You’ve resisted all that.

  • You’re too successful. Filmmakers who’ve had early mega-hits burn out much faster than their colleagues, runs this theory. Hence, you were automatically past your prime at age 35.

I can’t vouch for any of these theories, Rob. But I could also point to several countervailing factors that should have helped you sustain your winning streak. To wit:

  • You’ve had incredible access to material that other filmmakers would covet. Just as Steven Spielberg can draw upon the resources of DreamWorks, you’ve been plugged into Castle Rock’s development machine for all these years. Theoretically you should have been cherry-picking the best projects.

  • Given your track record of former years, studios were willing to put up substantial budgets for your personal films, not just sequels or remakes. Everyone wanted to find another “When Harry Met Sally.”

  • The very fact that you’re so connected to the problems of society should have encouraged you to make empathetic “people movies” of a Preston Sturges/Frank Capra bent. You’re the man who came up with 500,000 “I Am Your Child” video kits to be distributed to educate prospective parents in California. You have a big heart, Rob. Why don’t your movies show it?

Trust me, “Alex & Emma” doesn’t show it. It was a cool idea to turn to Dostoyevsky for the original idea, Rob, but old Fyodor didn’t have a film career to nurture, much less a film company.

Indeed, had he seen the final movie I think he, too, would have said, “Time out.” A retreat to the sidelines is in order for quiet contemplation and navel gazing.

The Rob Syndrome, after all, need not be a permanent condition.