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Is Ryan Reynolds just another Ken doll?

Ryan Reynolds feels like a manufactured star of sorts; someone who isn’t associated with any particular extremely successful undertaking, but someone for whom unseen Hollywood types seem to have big plans
/ Source: contributor

You’ve got to admire the faith that someone out there has in Ryan Reynolds.

Reynolds opens this Friday alongside Sandra Bullock in “The Proposal,” a summer romantic comedy about a guy whose demanding Canadian boss wants him to marry her so she can stay in the country. The last time Reynolds took center stage in a romantic comedy was in last year’s “Definitely, Maybe,” which underperformed at the box office in spite of decent reviews. And that’s pretty much the entirety of his record in this kind of film.

Reynolds has been kicking around in the popular consciousness ever since “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place,” the ABC sitcom that ran from 1998 to 2001, and while he’s famous (he’s married to Scarlett Johansson, among other things), he still has a little bit of an “oh, right, that guy” quality.

He still feels like a manufactured star of sorts; someone who isn’t associated with any particular extremely successful undertaking, but someone for whom unseen Hollywood types seem to have big plans. It’s perhaps more likely that you know about the next thing he’s in than it is that you know much about the last thing he was in.

Nevertheless, his reputation precedes him: a recent Parade article called him “that leading man women die for.” What, exactly, is that based on, other than marketing? Is there powerful evidence that women are ready to die for Ryan Reynolds?

The studios are hoping so, because here he is in a major summer release he’s co-headlining with one of the most rom-com-tested women in Hollywood, in spite of his fairly weak box-office record (which also includes “Waiting,” “Just Friends,” and “Van Wilder”). And even if “The Proposal” doesn’t do well, he’s already lined up for “Deadpool,” the spin-off centering on his character from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

And given the fact that this is his second heavily marketed romantic comedy in 18 months, somebody certainly believes he can be transformed into a success in this genre. Never mind the fact that he was much more interesting in this spring’s excellent but little-seen “Adventureland,” in which his almost delicately pretty face covered a fundamentally selfish jerk. His very solid performance in that movie suggests that, like Hugh Grant, Reynolds may prove much more useful when his superficial appeal is cut with something a little darker.

Male lead in a rom-com: A thankless taskFor the moment, though, it’s onward and upward in the high-concept rom-com, on the strong assumption that this is what people (read: women) want to see: Ryan Reynolds as Prince Charming.

It’s not uncommon for extremely pretty men to be tried out as fairly generic romantic leads, whether there’s much reason to believe they’ll be successful at it or not. Gerard Butler is coming to “The Ugly Truth” opposite proven commodity Katherine Heigl later this summer, and Josh Duhamel will appear in “When In Rome” with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s” Kristen Bell early next year. Neither of these guys looks like a great bet: Butler’s history is mostly in far heavier roles, and Duhamel’s history is … mostly in “Las Vegas” on television.

Everybody likes attractiveness, especially at the movies. But here’s the rub: romantic comedies are so predictable in plotting — largely by design — that they have to find freshness somewhere. And you don’t necessarily get freshness by picking a guy who’s so meticulously constructed that he looks like he just arrived from the wax museum.

It’s not clear that women gravitate to romances primarily because the guy is aesthetically perfect. It happens sometimes — the biggest traditional romantic comedy of last year was “27 Dresses,” and James Marsden is surely about pretty as men get. And heaven knows, there’s always Matthew McConaughey and his mysterious record of shiny-chested success.

But the record of big successful romances also includes movies like “Knocked Up” and its relatives like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and before that “Sleepless In Seattle” and its relatives like “When Harry Met Sally.” It’s not always about who’s the most lovely.

Who’s the most lovely just gets you a prop — a guy who looks good on the poster. It’s a sort of Barbie-doll approach to casting movies: for many girls, no matter how many Barbies you had, it was okay to have just one Ken, because he was just … Ken, riding shotgun in the pink Corvette because somebody had to.

A good rom-com is a rare beastRomantic comedies are much harder than they look; if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many very, very bad ones. Consider “Made Of Honor,” with Patrick Dempsey, or “New In Town,” with Renee Zellweger, to name just two relatively recent examples — when these movies fall, they can fall hard. In making them, you have to proceed with some care — you can’t, figuratively speaking, throw eggs and flour in a bowl and wait for the result to turn itself into a chocolate cake.

You have to have that spark of life, which unfortunately was not particularly evident when Reynolds went this route in “Definitely, Maybe.”

It’s entirely possible that he’s just a guy in search of the right script who’s so likable and funny that people keep trying. It’s also possible that his breakthrough project will prove to be the not-too-promising-looking “Proposal,” the same way Bullock has gone miles and miles on goodwill she earned from the completely clichéd but much-loved “While You Were Sleeping.”

On the other hand, it could be a waste of a perfectly good and talented guy, as it was when the aforementioned Hugh Grant made “Nine Months” and “Mickey Blue Eyes” before he figured out that he should play cads.

It would be nice to see more of this genre made without the doll-faced fellows. There is only so much of a perfect smile that one can realistically take, and the only characters who should come from wax museums are in horror movies.