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Good Chemistry, Stale Formula 

Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice

Wednesday, Dec 18 2002
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Sure, why the hell not? He‘s like KISS: He does one thing very well, without apology, and it never goes out of style. Actually, he’s better than KISS, because he usually tries to add a twist to his shtick. The problem is, when it comes to Grant‘s befuddled Everyman routine, context is everything. It is imperative that he choose lightweight films with deep souls and sharp brains behind them. He’s done remarkably well so far; statistically, he was probably due for a relative stinker.

And so, it must be said, the world does not need Two Weeks Notice. It‘s not a horrible film -- and it’s a fuckload better than some other oops-we-fell-in-love comedies in recent years (e.g., J. Lo‘s doggy The Wedding Planner). It’s just not very smart. Deeply rentable.

Grant plays George Wade, a womanizing, amoral real estate magnate in New York who goes through attorneys like Trojans. (He only hires attractive, unqualified females, you see, and one thing always leads to another.) Enter Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock), a brainy grassroots leftist who would rather sue him for destruction of city landmarks than let him, you know, spearhead her movement. Through an implausible turn of events, Lucy becomes his chief counsel. He promises, in return, to save the Coney Island community center near her childhood home from development. (I think she still lives with her folks at the film‘s start, but I’m not certain: There‘s a wallpaper-continuity issue.)

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Implausible plot devices are no biggie in slapstick. But you have to believe the characters, and that’s not always so easy here. In the opening scene, Lucy is straddling a wrecking ball, accessorized with a hippie skirt, yoga mat and comically upraised fist, trying to save a condemned theater. It‘s a complete here-we-go-again moment -- you know, when a mainstream movie tries to portray someone ”funky“ and ”offbeat,“ and gets it all wrong. It’s a shame, since hippies are so eminently skewerable. (See Toni Colette do it with love in About a Boy. You‘ve got to do it with love.) The implication is that we’re supposed to laugh at our heroine‘s unhip idealism. And that feels rotten. (I might have laughed anyway, if the scene had been actually funny.)

Lucy quickly becomes indispensable to George, choosing his clothing and stationery, enduring 2 a.m. drunken phone calls and bailing him out of a bad divorce settlement. In this section of the film, Bullock is really effective: She’s much more believable and funny as a corporate go-getter than as a muddled bleeding-heart, and she and Grant have excellent chemistry. Grant, for his part, is charmingly shallow as usual -- doubly so, because the actor surrenders utterly, visibly, to his own market-proven formula. After his inspired work in About a Boy, it‘s a little sad: There’s not much fresh nuance here, and the script doesn‘t encourage it. (One problem for both actors is that the film denies us real access to either character’s p.o.v. -- unlike, say, Jerry Maguire, where p.o.v. shifts continually, but is always intimate.)

After Lucy decides to quit, George tries to retain her, which is when the sexual tension starts to percolate. And percolate it does, endlessly. (In one super-goofy bit, Lucy is overcome with a case of irritable bowels on the freeway, and George saves her by knocking on the door of a nearby RV.)

Don‘t wanna ruin anything for you, though the film’s ad campaign sets you up pretty well for the outcome. In any case, Grant does such a fine job playing a lazy mercenary for 90 percent of the film, it‘s impossible to believe George would choose depth over ease. Oh well. Maybe next time. At the Hugh Grant plant, there’s always another vehicle coming down the line.

Reach the writer at ksullivan@laweekly.com

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