For a woefully unconvincing summertime romantic comedy, The Proposal is not without a certain ramshackle, rickety old charm, like an abandoned barn out in the middle of a field somewhere deep in the plains states where every October, some entrepreneur sets up shop charging too much for pumpkins and the world's saddest hayride. That is to say, the movie does not succeed according any halfway reasonable matrix, but it has a certain dozy sweetness thanks largely to its lead actors that means that as far as wretchedly predictable unfunny comedies that reinforce stagnant heteronormativity go, it's a fairly painless way to pass a couple hours, come a summer afternoon.

Directed by Anne Fletcher, a choreographer by trade whose last go round in the big seat was the dire 27 Dresses, The Proposal spins a similarly retrograde tale that just doesn't seem for a second like an actual woman could possibly have been responsible for it, so hideously sexist is it in every turn. But hey, women need paychecks too, and if Fletcher can make a career by selling out her gender, more power to her. In the film, Sandra Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a powerful professional woman, which in the context of movies like this of course means that she's a stone-cold harridan who feels no sort of human emotion and orders her underlings around like a general sending nameless soldiers off to die in the trenches. Chief among those underlings is Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), her executive assistant at Colden Books in New York City.

Margaret, we soon learn, is a native Canadian whose work visa to America is just about to expire, and since she was too busy being a ruthless bitch - that is to say, an effective businesswoman - to file the necessary papers, she's about to be deported. Unless, that is, she can prove to the INS that she's happily engaged to be married, and in a moment of desperation she threatens Andrew into posing as her fiancé, which means that they need to go together, posing as a couple, to the small Alaska town that his family effectively owns to celebrate his grandma's (Betty White) 90th birthday. There, Margaret meets his sweet mom (Mary Steenburgen) and emotionally distant dad (Craig T. Nelson, with the most unfortunate hair of his career), reminds herself about the magnificent joys of familial love, lost to her since her parents died when she was 16, and dodges the inquiries of dogged INS hatchet man Gilbertson (Denis O'Hare). I suspect that you maybe, while reading the preceding two paragraphs, thought to yourself, "At some point, does Margaret not find herself developing feelings for Andrew, and he for her? And thus she is ready to call the fraud off, but he resists, and things end with them finally confessing their love for one another and preparing to marry, not out of convenience but true affection?" If you did indeed think this, you may now give yourself a cookie. You are as clever as first-time screenwriter Peter Chiarelli.

Programmatic though it be, and mired in unforgivable stereotyping about put-upon good guys and wicked femmes, there are still moments of undisguised pleasure to be found in The Proposal, and a healthy number of them are thanks entirely to Sandra Bullock, which is not something I care to admit. Though I care even less to admit that Ryan Reynolds proves most of the rest. It is the case, try to deny it though I might, that the two of them are pretty charismatic when they want to be, and they actually have remarkably great chemistry (especially in the early scenes when they get all of the angry, hatey banter, which works much better for them than the soulful banter later on that signifies "these people are falling in wuv"). I realised something with this film that I think I should have already known, which is that Bullock actually has some damn fine comedic skills, with pitch-perfect timing and a good talent for under-reacting, and I would kind of like to see her get a good screenplay one of these days, because I think she might rock it. Reynolds isn't in her league, naturally, but he continues the amazing run of 2009 films where he isn't ball-shatteringly annoying every time he opens his mouth, and in a role that doesn't require him to be much else than charming in a sweet way, he surpasses the minimum required.

It would not do to fail mentioning, of course, that both Bullock and Reynolds have extremely fine bodies to look at unclothed, and there is a particular scene that invites - begs! - us to spend several minutes doing just that thing.

Nor would it do to fail mentioning that Betty White is plainly enjoying herself, playing an old lady with a naughty twinkle who perhaps remembers, once upon a time, that she was Sue Ann Nivens. White does not appear unclothed, and this fact does not count as as a particular disappointment

Is it a particularly likable, funny movie? No, of course not. It is a generic construct that privileges comfort and reliability over humor, and hinges on the completely unbelievable scenario that after three years of an emotionally vacuous boss/secretary relationship, it would take a scant 72 hours for Margaret and Andrew to fall in love (the "going on vacation to meet the parents of the man she is blackmailing into helping her defraud the U.S. government" bit I am willing to permit, since bitching about a film's core conceit always strikes me as a touch petty). But it is not punishing - it does not of its nature violate any unspoken contract that we as viewers make with cinema as a whole. This is not something that could be said about 27 DressesThe Proposal that helps it to go down quickly and painlessly, entertaining and funny in a sort of pallid way. I guess I'm saying, romantic comedies in this decade have been a great deal worse, and at the very least, The Proposal has the very real spark between the Bullock and Reynolds to keep it afloat at nearly every turn. If that's nothing to base a recommendation on, neither is it something to sneeze at.