Here is an interesting (negative) review of Adaptation that I read before seeing the movie, and the more I think about it, the more I am starting to agree with it:
By Stanley Kauffmann
In 1999 Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich, in which a mildly funny twelve-minute revue sketch was distended into a feature film. The poverty of the material was partially disguised by the busyness of all the participants, behaving as if the picture were marvelously clever. Charlie Kaufman's new screenplay, Adaptation (Columbia), makes disguise impossible. It declares bankruptcy right at the start, then proves it.
The bluntness of that declaration is meant to be the picture's safeguard, its very meaning. We are asked to follow Kaufman's writing mind as he attempts to build a wisp of a premise into a script. But all the elements are so dull that it is hard to be grateful to him for letting us watch the struggle. Kaufman has put himself into the film, as played by Nicolas Cage (and that wretched actor does not exactly shift matters into high gear). Cage-Kaufman wants to adapt a book called The Orchid Thief, wants to make a film about the lives and beings of flowers. This ambition, meant to distinguish Kaufman from the run of Hollywood journeymen, is the beginning of the disaster. Who would care if such a film was made? Or not made? Kaufman's ambition makes him not an exceptionally sensitive soul but an aberration.
Many kinds of trickery and embroidery are laid on as Kaufman pursues his objective. Flashbacks splutter. (One of them goes back four billion years in Hollywood as the first creatures emerge from the slime. Get it?) He goes to New York to consult the author of the book, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep, wasted). He visits the Florida swamp where the orchids grow. Girlfriends wend in and out. Then the Ur-Kaufman, the one who wrote the film, not Cage-Kaufman, had an inspiration, alas. He gave the Charlie in the film a twin brother, Donald. (Film databases tell us that Donald is fictional.) This twin must of course be played by the same actor, so the picture has to suffer a double dose of Cage.
Worse, Donald wants to be a screenwriter, too, and he apparently represents the Kaufman who could easily write Hollywood hits but who is aspiring. While Charlie is struggling with his poetic concept, Donald bats out an utterly conventional script about a serial killer. Charlie's agent, who has been trying to knock some sense into Charlie's ethereal project, loves Donald's script. The brothers are very fond of each other, but Donald's swift success doesn't help.
The most impressive aspect of Adaptation is technical--the numerous joint appearances of the two brothers played by the same actor. The director Spike Jonze and staff have handled these scenes so smoothly, so casually, that our wonder at them disappears. Little would be helped by detailing other matters in the picture, like Susan Orlean's personal involvement with the Florida orchid specialist. Virtually everything that happens in Adaptation is almost juvenile showing off-- daring to make a film that is in search of a script.
The herniated novelty of the enterprise is crushed with a big mistake at the end. Earlier in the picture Charlie has been advised to get a strong finish for his script. At the last he is smitten with an idea. He will finish his script with the truth of his trouble about finding a finish. This idea, faint though the echo is, reminds us of the ending of Fellini's 81/2, which closes with the writer-director's realization that his self and being are the material that he has been looking for. The reminder of Fellini is hard on Kaufman. 81/2 is a masterwork about the difficulties of making art in our time. It is directed and acted and shot and scored with genius. Kaufman's film, in every detail except the wasted Streep, is an account of Nibelungs moiling away underground, mistaking pyrites for gold.