published Thursday, June 18th, 2009

‘The Proposal’ too ordinary

By Robert W. Butler

McClatchy Newspapers

Is Sandra Bullock the female Matthew McConaughey?

Or is Matthew McConaughey the male Sandra Bullock?

Pondering this pop-culture conundrum kept my mind occupied while watching “The Proposal,” the latest romantic comedy starring and produced by Bullock.

It’s not an awful movie, just an utterly pedestrian one that follows the genre’s template without an interesting detour or a sharp edge to lift it out of the ordinary.

Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a domineering, cutthroat editor of a New York publishing house. Her employees live in such fear that when Margaret arrives every a.m., a mass e-mail announces: “It’s here.”

Nobody feels Margaret’s wrath more than her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), who is expected to live his life in the service of his demanding boss.

When Margaret learns she is to be deported to her native Canada for allowing her work visa to expire, she orders Andrew to marry her so she’ll have instant citizenship. He reluctantly agrees after eliciting a promise of a career boost.

And we’re supposed to like these people?

The bulk of “The Proposal” — written by Peter Chiarelli (his first produced script) and directed by Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “Step Up”) — takes place in an Alaskan town where Andrew’s family resides.

This picturesque burg (the film was shot along the Massachusetts coast with mountains added digitally in post production) is pretty much run by Andrew’s Babbitt-ish dad (Craig T. Nelson), who resents that his only son won’t take over the family biz.

More copacetic are Andrew’s mom (an underutilized Mary Steenburgen) and eccentric grandmother (Betty White in full wacko mode). There’s also Andrew’s teen flame (“Watchmen’s” Malin Akerman), now the local schoolmarm; she’s as sweet and thoughtful as Margaret is mean and self-centered.

Complicating things even more is an INS investigator (Dennis O’Hare) who follows the couple up north, determined to expose the sham marriage.

Though they loathe each other, Margaret and Andrew must pretend to be madly in love. They’re even forced to sleep in the same bedroom, a setup that provides the film’s “naughtiest” moments — a naked collision following a shower and a gag involving a morning erection.

Bullock’s spoiled city girl gets into slapsticky situations. Accidentally freeing the family’s tiny lapdog, Margaret must then battle an eagle intent on a doggie dinner. With White’s grandma she engages in a native fertility dance out in the woods. And a bachelorette party finds her on the receiving end of a bump and grind from a pudgy male stripper (Oscar Nunez).

Can you see where this is going?

Of course you can. The unbreakable rule of romantic comedy is that opposites will eventually attract. A good rom-com is creative enough that you’re still surprised by the inevitable.

But there’s nothing surprising here.

‘THE PROPOSAL’

* Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language

* Running time: 1 hour, 43 minuets.

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