The very fact that the trailers and commercials for "Two Weeks Notice" feature Sandra Bullock blushing with allegedly comedic embarrassment as she answers her cell phone during a wedding should serve as a mammoth red flag for the shallowness and unoriginality of this cookie-cutter romantic comedy.
That hackneyed and humdrum joke feels 20 years older than the technology it depends on -- and it's still the freshest gag in the superficial, hand-me-down script of writer-director Marc Lawrence.
Bullock plays a community activist lawyer -- a frumpy but desirable granola babe with a one-dimensional passion for preserving historical buildings in her native Brooklyn. Hugh Grant plays the oil to her water -- a charming, bumbling billionaire in charge of a development conglomerate that knocks down historical landmarks to build skyscrapers.
Grant needs a new chief counsel because his brother, the brains behind their company, keeps firing the bimbos with correspondence-course law degrees that Grant hires so he can sleep with them. When Bullock comes calling to protest the demolition of a community center, he knows her Harvard background will fit the bill and talks her into taking the job by promising to save the center and put her in charge of the company's charity funds.
Next thing you know, sparks are flying -- or at least that's what supposed to happen. But even with the movie's two stars wringing their stock screen personas for every bit of droll wit they can muster, there's just no romantic chemistry. The characters clearly have a fun love-hate thing going on, but it's so inescapably platonic that had the movie just been about two people from opposite worlds who become great friends, it might not have failed from trying too hard.
Clumsily directed and edited, "Two Weeks Notice" never rings true for even a moment. It's uncreatively clownish from the cheaply-staged opening scene (Bullock straddles a wrecking ball to save an old theater) to the trite, bubblegum-duet cover version of Joni Mitchell's protest song "Big Yellow Taxi" ("They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot") that's used as Bullock's theme.
After establishing that Grant quickly becomes dependent on Bullock for every decision in his life (the wedding phone call was a cry for help in picking out a suit), Bullock gets fed up and gives notice, but offers to train a replacement. Grant hires an effervescent young redhead (Alicia Witt, one of several flame-maned women in the movie for no specific reason) who stirs contrived jealousy in our heroine, leading to the usual awkward moments, misunderstandings and cute reconciliations that plague a dozen half-baked romantic comedies every year.
In order for the plot of "Two Weeks Notice" to move forward, its stars must behave like childish caricatures while Lawrence (writer of the awful "The Out-of-Towners" remake) ignores all the character traits that are supposed to define Bullock's and Grant's roles. In fact, once she's hired, her passionate disagreement with his company's policies is never even mentioned again until it becomes useful for the change-of-heart finale. And how he feels about those policies is never mentioned at all.
Instead of seeking even a modicum of depth in these characters, the picture hobbles along using the considerable charisma of its stars as a crutch. But we've all seen Grant's bewildered byronisms and Bullock's cute-'n-clumsy routine before.
If seeing these two do their usual things in a movie together is such a high priority for you that a paper-thin plot doesn't matter, then by all means see "Two Weeks Notice." Otherwise, Grant can be seen at his very best in "About A Boy" (on video January 14) and Bullock is brilliant in 1999's "Forces of Nature" -- which is, ironically enough, the only decent, unconventional movie Marc Lawrence has written.