Two Weeks Notice

Now that his tic-intensive days seem behind him, Hugh Grant's dashing looks and breezy, slightly arrogant charm have made him the natural successor to his namesake Cary, the only current romantic lead who could conceivably hold court with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, or Ingrid Bergman. But since there are apparently no heirs to Ben Hecht, Grant is often left to finesse material that isn't worthy of him, manufacturing chemistry out of thin air and spinning TV punchlines into something approximating wit. His best lines in Two Weeks Notice, a passable pairing with Sandra Bullock, are either a miracle of delivery or improvisation, because there's nothing in writer-director Marc Lawrence's filmography (Miss Congeniality, Forces Of Nature, Life With Mikey) to warrant any accolades. In the battle between their star power and Lawrence's bad ideas, Grant and Bullock win the day, but not before grinning through a few moldy gags, including a sequence involving a poorly digested chili dog and the old her-hair-caught-in-his-zipper routine, which has whiskers long enough to shame ZZ Top. (Points off, too, for the use of Aretha Franklin's ";Respect," the most egregiously overplayed music cue outside of "I Feel Good" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough.") True to the Miss Congeniality formula, Bullock spends time as a frog before she becomes a princess. She opens the film as a non-profit lawyer and social activist clad in loose flowery dresses and Birkenstocks, working to stop the demolition of old buildings. Many of the wrecking balls belong to Grant, the handsome face behind one of New York City's top real-estate development companies. His search for legal counsel leads improbably to the Harvard-educated Bullock, who takes the job on the promise of his philanthropy, but soon ends up advising him on smart ties, firm mattresses, and other degrading minutiae. The tables turn, however, when she quits her job, leaving the hapless Grant with two weeks to find a replacement or win her back. Within this straight-ahead premise, Lawrence adds one potentially amusing wrinkle: Bullock, snared in the draconian contract she drafted for herself, spends her workday trying to get fired. The hilarious middle third of Office Space riffs on exactly this strain of insubordination, but Lawrence drops the idea after a single scene, falling back on second-rate banter and predictable setups in the hope that his stars will hit a few grace notes. He's fortunate to have appealing pros like Grant and Bullock around to bail him out with romantic chemistry and enough crisply delivered one-liners to survive the barren stretches of script. Two Weeks Notice begs for repeated pairings, preferably with someone else behind the camera. Is Howard Hawks still available?

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