What do you do when your movie is all premise and no pop? Try harder. Or at least that’s the tack taken by The Proposal, a romantic comedy that yokes Sandra Bullock to Ryan Reynolds as a sham couple, then tries to compensate for the absence of chemistry by keeping them busybusybusy with random subplots and comic business. Look, there’s Oscar Nuñez from The Office, stripping! And Betty White doing a tribal dance! And Craig T. Nelson grimacing paternally! And an eagle chasing a puppy!
Bullock plays a feared, powerful book editor, a job that apparently consists entirely of reading unsolicited manuscripts while riding an exercise bike, and trying to coax authors into appearing on Oprah. Reynolds is her assistant, a bundle of fear and loathing who hopes someday to become an editor himself. (Maybe he just wants an exercise bike?) When Bullock learns that her failure to sort out some immigration paperwork threatens to send her back to her native Canada, she muscles Reynolds into agreeing to marry her, threatening his job if he refuses. Realizing the situation unexpectedly gives him the upper hand, he takes her up on the offer, then attempts to make her life hell during a weekend trip to visit his family in Alaska on the occasion of Grandma Betty White’s 90th birthday.
Though they never make a convincing couple, either when they’re trying to fake it, or when the movie—non-spoiler—pushes them closer to falling in love, there’s nothing really wrong with either of their performances. Reynolds has developed a talent for conveying wry indignation, and Bullock slips back into frothy romantic-comedy mode as easily as if this were Miss Congeniality 3: Alaskan Adventure. It’s the material that stinks, failing to give even an old pro like White more than a couple of modest laughs, then flailing between family psychodrama—Reynolds’ dad wants him to give up this book nonsense and come run his father’s small-town empire—and uninspired physical comedy without creating any sparks from the friction. Following 27 Dresses, this is the second high-concept, low-impact, wedding-themed comedy in 18 months for choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher. It might be time to move on.