Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock prove a real mismatch in "The Proposal,'' a romantic comedy that is neither
Casting a romantic comedy is like eating. Just because you like sardines and cheese doesn’t mean you like them together. Sardines and cheese together is gross. As it turns out, so is the pairing of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Individually, his sarcasm can be amusing, and her straining for comedy is occasionally funny. In “The Proposal,’’ neither brings out anything good in the other, and watching them try hurts the eyes, the tummy, and the libido. The nature of the genre, regardless of how it begins, ends with both parties in each other’s arms. And while I watched these two sets of lips (one set being a little fuller than I recall) head for collision, I prayed the movie might fall off the assembly line and jostle loose the dreaded oncoming event. I’ve rarely been less lucky. What is the opposite of fireworks? When two people kiss, can firing squads go off?
Bullock plays Margaret, the type of high-powered New York book editor who sends an entire office running for cover when she comes to work. (“It’s coming,’’ read the instant messages.) The movie had already lost me at that point since this is the kind of panic reserved for Faye Dunaway, Glenn Close, or Simon Cowell. In any case, Margaret learns that she’s being deported (she’s from Toronto). Thinking quickly (someone mentions the words “married’’ and “engaged’’), she informs her bosses that she and her unwitting, unwilling assistant, Andrew (Reynolds), are soon to be wed.
Why a screenwriter would think hilarity would ensue from this premise is anybody’s guess. Pete Chiarelli is that deeply uninspired screenwriter, and he sends Margaret and Andrew to Sitka, Alaska, so they can break the news to his well-heeled family (Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, and Betty White). It’s a ridiculous distance to go just to produce a location that, at least in this movie, looks like it could be anywhere (in fact, it was shot in and around Massachusetts). Sadly, the closest we get to so-called local color is Oscar NuÃ±ez, as both the town Hispanic and the only person who works (from stripper to cashier to reverend, he does it all).
Reynolds gets to drop his considerable jaw, arch his eyebrows, and wrinkle his forehead, always in disbelief. Bullock is back to doing her uptight shtick, and here it made me laugh exactly once, when she vamps around the woods singing Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz’s “Get Low,’’ which is exactly what she has to do to make the comedy work here. She seems simultaneously too old for these low-calorie sitcoms and somehow still not experienced enough to pull them off. Meanwhile, White’s vulgar-old-lady act is tired but funnier. (Is she the spryest 300-year-old on earth, or what?)
Directed by Anne Fletcher with the same pokiness she applied to “27 Dresses,’’ the movie builds to a heavily advertised sequence in which Margaret and Andrew run into each other naked then peel themselves away in disgust. The physics involved is impressive. But how is an audience supposed to believe, an hour later, that love could possibly be in the air when one lover’s sight of the other’s body provokes this kind of revulsion? Romantic comedies avoid sex, yes. But even by Doris Day-Rock Hudson standards, recoiling from the possibility of it is pathological. Unless, of course, you’ve paid - or are being paid - to sit through this. In which case, recoiling is not only understandable. It’s involuntary.