Robe-Trotter: Bullock goes to the end of the earth?and her tether?trying to save her career.
Robe-Trotter: Bullock goes to the end of the earth?and her tether?trying to save her career.

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The Proposal is set in a world where women sleep in full makeup. They dress in tight suits and high heels at all times, which means they will comically stumble and struggle while, say, dragging a heavy suitcase in freezing weather. There are spit-takes, small dogs, and predictable mishaps—and, to cap it off, an impassioned dash to the airport.

A dash to the airport. Seriously.

Director Anne Fletcher’s follow-up to 27 Dresses does not in the least redeem her for 27 Dresses. The Proposal was written by first-time scripter Peter Chiarelli, who apparently and unfathomably felt no shame over stuffing his film with what feels like every romantic-comedy cliché ever worn out. Add to the aforementioned a sex-talking granny. And accidental nudity. And a surprise bachelorette party, complete with embarrassing stripper.

The latter, at least, earns a few titters, courtesy of the potbellied gyrations of The Office’s Oscar Nuñez, who plays a goofy, ethnic jack-of-all-trades in small-town Alaska. Which leads us to the movie’s encompassing cliché, the fish-out-of-water story: Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is a tough New York City book editor, feared by her employees and doted on by her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds). In the spirit of The Devil Wears Prada, Margaret is a soft-spoken she-devil for whom Andrew is willing to slave in hope of being promoted and perhaps getting his novel published.

So when Margaret, a Canadian, learns that her visa has expired and she’s about to be deported, Andrew doesn’t blink when she drags him in front of their supervisors and announces their marriage. Well, he does blink a little. And stammers. And generally looks dumbfounded. The reaction would hardly be worth mentioning if Reynolds’ expressions weren’t one of the sole highlights of the film. Next stop? Gammy’s 90th birthday party in Andrew’s Alaskan hometown, where the new couple must convince his family and the immigration officer that their love isn’t fraudulent.

Gammy is played by Betty White, who looks good and sounds spry but is otherwise saddled with the thankless task of playing the elderly clown. She and Mary Steenburgen, doing the cooing Mary Steenburgen thing as Andrew’s mother, are mostly relegated to huddling together with their cups of coffee and chortling over those crazy kids.

But while Steenburgen just has to act sweet and occasionally befuddled, Grandma has to talk about boobs and making babies, and at one point dons a Native American cloak and chants around a bonfire to give thanks to the universe for the couple’s new love. She entreats Margaret to do the same, instructing her to “use her vowels” to create her own chant. And this also leads to a surprisingly funny moment, when the secretly hip-hop-loving Margaret’s grunts turn into “Get Low.” But then Bullock busts a move, and her furious fanny-wagging takes the joke too far.

The real tragedy of The Proposal, though, isn’t its broad predictability; it’s the obvious talent being wasted: Reynolds and Bullock are deft physical comedians who are clearly struggling to wring the maximum potential out of the script’s meager gags. One scene in which Margaret and Andrew are begged by his family to “tell the story” of their engagement is masterful, each actor carefully timing the characters’ interruptions and improv-relay before their rapt and occasionally perplexed audience. But for the majority of the movie, they might as well be slipping on banana peels.