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Nevermind the Bullocks.

By Adrienne Martini

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999:  Romantic comedy has gotten a bad rap. I can see why, when schlock-meisters like Kevin Costner (don't even get me started on For the Love of the Game) get involved. But they don't all have to be like that—that painful, that hackneyed, that wooden—and can be downright fun and genuinely heartwarming.

One good way to find an actually entertaining romantic comedy is to point yourself to the genre's queen. No, no, not Julia Roberts, who is, at best, only a precious princess in search of a pampering—for proof, rent Pretty Woman. Roberts is fit only to touch the hem of Sandra Bullock's carefully distressed garments. Her latest foray into this much-maligned genre, Forces of Nature (PG-13, 1999), proves that she is the reigning monarch, mostly because she always remains very much her kooky self even if she falls head over heels. She's the sort of gal who doesn't lose her mind or identity when she loses her heart.

Which is not to say that Forces is a perfect picture—it's really, really not—but it does contain a few very funny scenes (including one that hints that Ben Affleck has a libido) and a few very touching ones. The two are forced to travel across the country together after a plane accident leaves Affleck pre-nuptially stranded and the world keeps tossing obstacles in the couple's way. Forces breaks the traditional formula of the genre by not forcing the guy and the girl who are arguably the romantic leads together with some silly plot twist; however, it never really congeals and one of the loose sub-plots that involves major weather occurrences goes nowhere.

The Thing Called Love (PG-13, 1993) may be a better model and proof of Bullock's queen-ship. While Samantha Mathis and the late River Phoenix are arguably the leads in this story of singer/songwriters trying to make it in Nashville, it is Bullock and her love interest Dermot Mulroney who steal the show. Bullock's character is simply chock full of nutty Southern charm, which doesn't waver an inch even after she is caught by her man. Plus, Thing also is full of cameos by well-known country stars like K.T. Oslin, Webb Wilder, and Trisha Yearwood as well as some stand-out hit songs, like the title ditty, sung by the actors themselves.

Of course, Bullock's rise to regalness would not be possible without Emma Thompson's turn as an equally strong-willed romantic object in The Tall Guy (R, 1989) paving the way. Jeff Goldblum plays an American actor trapped in a musical production of The Elephant Man (called Elephant!) who falls for Thompson. While the romance is rocky, the sex is down-right destructive—just like real life.

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