Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White
Directed by: Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”)
Written by: Pete Chiarelli (debut)

It’s fairly easy to compare the new Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy “The Proposal” to the 1990 film “Green Card” starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell. Both are conventional stories about two people scamming the immigration system so one can stay in the U.S. Both have lead characters with natural chemistry.

But where ‘The Proposal” differs drastically from the Peter Weir-directed rom-com of 20 years ago is the dynamic in which the two lead characters’ relationship is written. While Depardieu and MacDowell are portrayed as strangers who are basically doing each other a favor, Bullock and Reynolds have an everyday working rapport that disrupts the already sitcom-like storyline.

In “The Proposal,” Bullock plays Margaret Tate, an icy New York book publisher who learns she is being deported to Canada because she failed to renew her citizenship. Desperate to stay in the country, she turns to her always-reliable personal assistant Andrew Paxon (Reynolds) who hopes his role as her whipping boy (he goes on latté and tampon runs for her) will only last until the company publishes his manuscript.

When Margaret blackmails Andrew into marrying her so she can get legal status, both see a way to get what they want. But when a suspicious immigration officer questions the veracity of their engagement, the quasi-couple is forced to verify their relationship by traveling to Andrew’s home in Alaska to tell his family that he is about to marry the boss he has always complained about.

What is it about the state of Alaska that screenwriters find so humorous that they have to set their story there? Renée Zellweger did the same thing in last year’s unpleasant romantic comedy “New in Town.” Here, Bullock and Reynolds team up with the Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Oscar Nuñez, and the charming Betty White to slush through the snow one predictable step after another. Since Margaret and Andrew have known each other for so long, there is no sense of discovery between the two although they are supposed to be learning about one other during their trip so they can pass a mandatory couple’s test administered by U.S. Immigration. There should be cause for concern and at least the impression of anxiousness in these characters, but instead first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli executes everything so fluffy there’s not much to stand on other than a couple of amusing performances.

Along with former “Golden Girl” White’s rare and funny appearance, it’s really Reynolds’ familiar humor that keeps the film from taking a dive. Even when Reynolds takes on a role that has him portray a more sensitive character like Andrew, his deeply-rooted sardonic traits peer out through his boyish eyes. It really is the highlight of the film and keeps Bullock’s character from blowing up into more of a caricature than it already is.

If rom-coms are the flavor you like, you can do a lot worse than “The Proposal.” It’s harmless, second-rate material just good enough for a date movie with a girl you necessarily don’t want to impress with your keen cinematic taste.

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