The Proposal marks Sandra Bullock's return to romantic comedy

The Proposal *** Opens Friday areawide

Even with the age difference (she's 44; he's 32), Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds make a darn cute couple in The Proposal, a high-concept romantic comedy that sizzles more than it fizzles. Directed by Anne Fletcher, who helped turn Katherine Heigl into a bona fide rom-com princess in last year's 27 Dresses, The Proposal might very well restore Bullock's title as America's (blue-collar) Sweetheart.

Amazingly, this is Mrs. Jesse James' first romantic comedy since 2002's Two Weeks Notice. Since then, she's dabbled in awards-baiting dramas (Crash, Infamous), psychological thrillers (Premonition) and even metaphysical love stories (The Lake House). While most actresses of her, uh, mature stature would probably begin segueing to character roles by now, Bullock borrows a page from the 1960s Doris Day playbook by booking the sort of slapstick-tinged romance she cut her teeth on back in the Clinton administration.

Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a book editor who strikes fear into her cowering staff just by entering the building. After learning that she faces deportation, the boss-from-hell blackmails her executive assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into marrying her. Realizing that he's suddenly got the upper hand, Andrew somehow convinces "Satan's Mistress" to fly to Alaska to meet his (what else?) quirky family. Before you can say "The Devil Wears Prada meets Green Acres," this imperious New Yorker is mixing it up with the folksy locals.

Since debuting screenwriter Peter Chiarelli has obviously studied the basics of Romantic Comedy 101, it's only a matter of time before Margaret and Andrew realize that they sort of, kind of, actually dig each other. (The same thing happened to frenemies Renée Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. earlier this year in New in Town.)

Fletcher again displays a deft touch with even the most obvious of comic situations. And hiring veteran cinematographer Oliver Stapleton (The Cider House Rules, Restoration) ensures The Proposal has more visual élan than Fletcher's dowdy-looking Dresses. Ex-Golden Girl Betty White's frisky Alaskan granny gets the biggest laughs, but it really is Bullock and Reynolds' movie. These rom-com pros have you at "hello."

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