Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The ProposalTHE PROPOSAL

"All right, you've got five minutes to sell me your pitch. Go."

"Well, it's a romantic comedy - I'm thinking about calling it The Proposal - and it's about this bitchy, selfish book editor in Manhattan who learns deeper values and becomes a better person after falling in love with her assistant."

"That doesn't sound very funny."

"Here's the catch, though. The editor is a Canadian whose work visa has expired, and she figures the only way she can stay in the country legally is by forcing her assistant to marry her ... even though he really can't stand her!"

"Why doesn't the assistant just refuse?"

"He does, but then she threatens him with unemployment, and tells him he'll never get his own novel published if he says no."

"That really doesn't sound funny."

"No, it's fine, because the guy agrees to do it in exchange for a promotion and the publication of his book - they're blackmailing each other, you see? Isn't that cute?"

"So it's like The Devil Wears Prada if Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway fell in love - that's brilliant!"

"But I haven't told you the best part! In order to fool a pesky deportation bureaucrat, they have to spend a weekend together with the assistant's family ... in Alaska! Can't you just imagine this sophisticated New Yorker traipsing around a rustic village in stiletto heels, and unable to sleep because of the constant sunlight, and falling out of boats and stuff?"

"So it's like an Alaskan New in Town without Renée Zellweger! Um ... you weren't thinking of Renée Zellweger for the editor, were you?"

"No. I was thinking Sandra Bullock, with someone like, I dunno, Ryan Reynolds as the assistant."

"Good. Everyone likes Bullock. And Reynolds is handsome and unthreatening and kinda funny. That'd work. So what happens in Alaska?"

"Well, at first the editor acts all shrewish, and there's a lot of slapstick where the leads are forced to kiss each other in public, and accidentally run into each other naked, and so on. But then the editor starts to warm up when the assistant's family accepts her as one of their own ... ."

"Just like in While You Were Sleeping!"

"Exactly! And then she begins to feel guilty for the ruse, and realizes that she doesn't deserve a guy as sweet as the assistant, and then at the wedding ... ."

"Wait - they're getting married that weekend?"

"Oh yeah. The guy's parents talk them into getting married in the family barn before they head back to Manhattan."

"That's a little strange - wouldn't they maybe want some of their New York friends at the ceremony?"

"Trust me, the audience will be so charmed by then, no one will notice."

"I don't know. Bullock's audiences will probably like it, but I'm starting to think that others might hate the movie for being derivative and nonsensical and phony."

"That's why you with hire great performers like Craig T. Nelson and Malin Akerman and Denis O'Hare and Mary Steenburgen for the supporting cast - people will figure that with this much talent around, the movie's got to at least be pretty good!"

"You do know about that new clause in Hollywood contracts, the one that stipulates that every new comedy feature at least one cast member from The Office?"

"No problem. Oscar Nuñez can play the male stripper. And for the older demographic, there's this great role for Betty White - she'd get to play the assistant's adorable, 89-year-old grandmother who dances in native Alaskan headdresses and has a heart attack."

"You want Betty White to have a heart attack onscreen?"

"No no no no no. She fakes a heart attack. To get the leads to fall in love quicker."

"Won't the audience resent you for manipulating them like that?"

"Nah, they'll be so happy that Betty White's still alive, they won't care."

"You seem to have thought of everything. It might be hard to get Bullock on board, though. It's been about 10 years since she looked like she was having fun on-screen."

"Throw her an executive producer credit and she'll be fine. Then just get someone like 27 Dresses' Anne Fletcher to give everything a pleasantly vacuous rom-com sheen, and you're good to go!"

"Perfect. And tell me again, what's the title you're working with?"

"The Proposal."

"Yes, yes ... it suggests a wedding engagement, but also suggests something that's strictly a business arrangement, completely devoid of actual romance. I love it! I'm wondering what we can gross on opening weekend ... ?"

"I was thinking, like, $17 million?"

"Of course, if we open in the summer, we could double that."


Jack Black and Michael Cera in Year OneYEAR ONE

If Harold Ramis' Year One weren't so damned funny - not all the time, but a lot of the time - it would be a pretty easy movie to loathe. The comedy finds a pair of Paleolithic outcasts (Jack Black's Zed and Michael Cera's Oh) traveling from their Stone Age forest dwelling to the primitive Las Vegas of Sodom, with a few Biblical detours tossed in along the way, and it hints that something has gone oddly wrong with Ramis' direction. Filmed with such an emphasis on full-face closeups that it seems almost to have been designed for the small screen, the cramped visual style is about the only style on display here; the movie is so haphazardly edited that it occasionally borders on the incoherent - it's not always clear where, and when, we are - and the unfunny routines are so bizarrely protracted that the unfunniness almost seems to be the point. A potentially hysterical sequence with Cain and Abel (David Cross and Paul Rudd) eventually grows merely vile, while far too much time is spent on Oliver Platt's fey dithering as a Sodomite (in more ways than one), and what starts as an enjoyably outré change of pace degenerates (in more ways than one) into something the actor might consider erasing from his résumé before heading back to Broadway.

Yet there are still enough laughs here to merit a happily laid-back viewing, though perhaps more of them if you're doing the laying back from the comfort - and the access to alcohol-slash-whatever - of your own home. Despite his mostly unsatisfying introductory scene, Cross' brashly hostile turn grows more dementedly inspired as it progresses, and Hank Azaria does one of his peerlessly silly Hank Azaria numbers, playing Abraham as a proudly devout man all too excited to have invented the circumcision. (Poor Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as Isaac, is his first "volunteer.") While the women here are mostly decorative, June Diane Raphael reveals a stellar deadpan in the role of Zed's level-headed crush. And while neither is doing anything they haven't been asked to do dozens, if not hundreds, of times before, Black and Cera develop and maintain a surprisingly winning comic rhythm, and make Year One's best lines sail through sheer confidence in their comic personae - Black, ballsy and lascivious, Cera, anxious and ironic. We may know their shtick all too well by now, but there's still considerable enjoyment to be had in hearing Cera defend his ill luck with the ladies by insisting, "I'm a virgin by choice," while Black, eyebrow raised, replies, "Not your choice."

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