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“Proposal” a mixed bag of cliches, worthwhile moments

HOW did I end up in this movie? I mean, I have a SIX-PACK now, dammit!

HOW did I end up in this movie? I mean, I have a SIX-PACK now, dammit!

There is one scene, one single, lonely but powerful little scene, that transcends all the cliches and hokey gimmicks “The Proposal” shamelessly trafficks: Margaret (Sandra Bullock), who checked out on love years ago, stands confronted with the very real possibility (in the form of one Ryan Reynolds) and says, very simply, “I’m scared.” Just two words, but what a whallop of emotional truth they pack. After all, in romance one partner is always chasing the other, no? And here, it seems the person who most wants to run is the one willing to let herself get caught. She surrenders, and not without considerable hesitation. Indeed, it’s a moment so honest and unadorned it feels inexplicably out of place in a movie directed by the same woman who directed — gulp — the subtle-as-an-AK47 “27 Dresses.”

So why is this delicate interaction included in “The Proposal,” which revolves around a cliche so dead-tired even the witty Reynolds cannot charm it alive? Perhaps it exists to provide a shot of credibility, but I suspect the success of the moment has more to do with Bullock and Reynolds. They’re too good. They take a scene meant to be hokey — think Julia Roberts a la “Notting Hill,” that shudder-inducing “I’m just a girl” speech — and make it real and plain and true. Bravo. It works beautifully.

Oh, if only the rest of “The Proposal” were 1/16 that disarming. Bullock and Reynolds, always friendly faces in a romantic comedy, and even the fiery-yet-vulnerable Betty White try their damndest to make it so, but with a plot like this it’s impossible. Raise the shields and prepare for the barrage of cliches: Margaret, the cheerless head of book-publishing company Colden Books, is facing certain deportation (back to Canada!) when she steamrolls her bright, long-suffering assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into a green card engagement. With a highly suspicious INS agent (Denis O’Hare) on their heels, Margaret and Andrew trek out to Alaska, where the orphaned shrew is wined, dined and charmed to bits by Andrew’s family (including White as Wacky Ole’ Gammy and is-she-high-on-something-and-where-can-I-get-it? Mary Steenburgen as Doting Mom). Wacky hijinks ensue, leading up to the same ending that’s been used since the beginning of time. Blecch. Don’t expect any clever tricks here; it’s all as standard as a FAFSA form.

Then again, what kind of schmuck goes into a movie like “The Proposal” expecting clever tricks? This one, that’s who. Or maybe it’s more of a fervent hope than an expectation. An 11th-hour twist? At least one character (including household pets) who doesn’t do exactly what we expect? Nope, nope. Even worse, there’s some seriously bad typecasting going on, and it takes the form of Oscar Nuñez — arguably the funniest secondary character on NBC’s “The Office” — as a heavily accented exotic dancer/lothario. How did he agree to do this? Is the economy this bad, Oscar? Don’t stoop; Sir Ian McKellan would never stoop. What a terrible waste of a genuine talent.

Still, predictable doesn’t have to equal uniformly terrible, especially when heavy-hitters like Bullock (she was aces in “While You Were Sleeping”) and Reynolds (go see “Definitely, Maybe”) show up. Reynolds has had a way with one-liners since “Two Girls and a Guy,” and he’s dependably droll here. Better still, he’s outgrown that lanky cute phase and morphed into something resembling a leading man. He can hold his own. And Bullock injects a little bit of Lucy Eleanor Moderatz into Margaret, proving she can do pratfalls and vulnerability and make it all look believable. Somehow, she makes that same character feel fresh most every time. Ditto that for the unflappable Betty White, now 87 and making a fine career of playing outspoken, kooky-but-warmly-accepting grandmas in Hollywood. Watching these three act (re: not overact) is the most enjoyable pleasure to be expected from the unoriginal “Proposal.”

Grade: C

One Response

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