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Thursday, June 18, 2009 01:14 am

Bullock’s hollow Proposal

Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Porposal.

The good news about Sandra Bullock’s latest romantic comedy, The Proposal, is that it’s no Forces of Nature, a misfire from a decade ago in which the actress tried in vain to create some sort of spark with her co-star Ben Affleck. The bad news is, it’s no Jerry Maguire, the sort of mature love story the actress has yet to star in. Bullock’s career has been in neutral for quite some time as the actress delivers one romantic comedy after another, with varying degrees of success, only to have her more serious efforts largely ignored by film audiences. That’s too bad, as I think there’s a good actress here waiting to get out. However movies like this don’t allow her to show it.

The Proposal will satisfy most who flock to it and it does have its fair share of moments. Unfortunately, most of them are delivered by Bullock’s co-star, Ryan Reynolds as Andrew Paxton, the put-upon assistant to Margaret Tate (Bullock), a leading New York book editor who strikes fear in all around her. Bullock’s character, a Canadian citizen, doesn’t feel as though rules, whether they are in the workplace or in society, apply to her. Unfortunately, she learns they do in a rather harsh manner. All those notices she’s ignored from the U.S. government concerning her citizenship come back to haunt her in a big way. Notified that she’s about to be deported, she blackmails Paxton into an engagement with the promise of marriage, hanging a promotion over his head as bait. With a quickie divorce as part of the plan, this seems like a reasonable proposition — until they visit Paxton’s family in Alaska and Margaret’s hard shell begins to melt.

The chemistry between the two stars is quite good and Bullock must be given credit for playing the straight person here. She’s convincing as a woman who’s put her feelings aside to get ahead, and the moment in which she reveals her true self is one of Bullock’s best. However, Reynolds gets all of the laughs with his deadpan reaction to the various horrible situations he finds himself in. In being still and letting his eyes and subtle facial expressions do the work, the actor is able to convey a sense of dawning dread and despair to hilarious comic effect. While Reynolds is often guilty of trying too hard in the action fare he finds himself in (Blade: Trinity, Wolverine), he seems much more at home in films of this nature (Just Friends, Definitely, Maybe), effortlessly delivering one big laugh after another.

Really, the fault of the film lies at the feet of first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli who fails to deliver what every successful film in this genre needs, namely a big romantic moment. There’s no “You had me at ‘Hello’” scene here or even a time when we see these two come to the realization that cupid’s arrows have hit their mark. The couple falls in “like” rather than love, which proves anticlimactic after all the romantic shenanigans we’ve witnessed.

While this is probably a realistic outcome for these two, we don’t watch romantic comedies to witness the mundane. We go to be swept away by the possibility that passionate love can overtake and change us for the better. The Proposal doesn’t dip its toe in these waters, content to be a serviceable piece of fluff. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of puff piece we’ve seen many times before, which could have been transformed with a bit of daring.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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