NOT EVEN FIRST RUNNER-UP
A scene from 'Miss Congeniality'
Courtesy Photo
"MISS CONGENIALITY"
** stars 110 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, December 22, 2000
Directed by Donald Petrie

Starring Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Melissa De Sousa, Steve Monroe



 COUCH CRITIQUE
   SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 10%
   LETTERBOX: NOT NECESSARY

If you haven't seen this movie in the theater, you haven't missed much. It will play virtually the same on the small screen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 05.01.2001



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Bullock is hilarious as 'Miss Congeniality' but her performance can't overcome the lame FBI plot

By Rob Blackwelder

If the whole crew that made "Miss Congeniality" -- writer, director, stars, everybody -- were to get together for another movie, one with a less idiotic plot than a tomboy FBI agent going undercover at a beauty pageant, I'd be gung ho to see it.

The level of talent and the amount of good humor that goes to waste in this gimmicky, so-stupid-it-stops-being-funny star vehicle is phenomenal.

Sandra Bullock is said star, and her screwball (bordering on Lucille Ball) performance as a clodhopping, quarrelsome, graceless lout of a foible-prone FBI agent would be comic gold if the boat anchor of a story weren't dragging it down.

Bullock is amusingly credible as a kickboxing spitfire who prefers sweats to skirts, swills beer, talks with her mouth full and snorts when she laughs.

But, of course, she cleans up nice in an industrial strength makeover scene from which she emerges looking dead sexy, wrapped in a tiny purple dress that couldn't be tighter if it were painted on. She then takes a hair-tossing slow-motion runway strut and proves her comedy pluck at the end of it with a pratfall from her three-inch heels that would do Jerry Lewis proud. In short, she's funny. She's adorable. She's great.

But, oy! What she has to work with! Let me get this straight: A terrorist bomber has threatened the Miss United States pageant, so the FBI blackmails Miss New Jersey into dropping out so Sandy can take her place. (As if there wouldn't be a bitter runner up in the wings.) This is a more viable solution than beefing up pageant security and doing background checks? They couldn't put somebody undercover somewhere else in the organization? The pageant people agree to this? The other contestants aren't suspicious?

I'm willing to suspend disbelief for a less logistical comedy, but come on.

Even more faulty is the character of the mad bomber, who is such a cliché that he (or she?) types threatening "riddle me this..." letters while wearing ominous black leather gloves. Oh, brother. This baddie is never shown from the waist up, so it's idiotically obvious someone in the cast has a hidden agenda and some pent-up anger about society's obsession with beauty.

In a talented cast of very funny performances, who could it be? Candice Bergen, as the cynically high-hatted former beauty queen who now runs the pageant from her Helen Gurley Brown-like perch? William Shatner, as the aging pageant host being forcibly retired? Michael Caine, as the vaguely fay, out-of-favor contestant coach burdened with turning Bullock into a babe in four days? (The antagonism between these two is priceless.)

Maybe it's Benjamin Bratt, Bullock's seductive Bureau partner who finds himself suddenly turned on. (OK, probably not him.) Or could it be Heather Burns, as Miss Rhode Island, a bright-eyed and bouncy "Brady Bunch"-like sweet thing who's all gung-ho to be girlfriends with the surly new contestant? She does turn out to be a nuclear physics major, after all.

Director Donald Petrie goes a long way toward making up for "My Favorite Martian" here, but he still seems sadly dependent on pathetic plot devices to push his comedy forward. And the pandering political correctness that rears its ugly head (the movie is careful not to step on the toes of feminists or fashion slaves) contributes considerably to ruining the mood.

What say we let these folks take another stab at it with a better script, OK?







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