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Miss Congeniality

I was never really a Sandra Bullock fan until I saw the wonderful Hope Floats. I never had anything against her, mind you, just was never drawn to her. After that, though, and with the help of a friend who is enamored of her, I've seen a lot of her work in recent months, some great, some regrettable. Her new film Miss Congeniality falls somewhere in the middle. Sandra plays her usual light comic slightly klutzy but well meaning girl with a big heart and a sharp tongue. Her Gracie Hart is essentially the same character she played in the warmer and fuzzier While You Were Sleeping, only this character is an FBI agent and as such is virtually unconcerned with all things girlie, like make-up and nice hair and all of that. Enter co-worker Eric Matthews (a surprisingly unengaging Benjamin Bratt), who suddenly needs her to go undercover at a beauty pageant, and has to sweet talk her into taking the position. Hart's a bit of a screw up and the butt of some jokes around the squad, and of course the screenplay lingers on the theoretically funny idea of the cloddish Gracie being transformed into a gliding beauty queen. To make that silly notion a reality, the FBI hires a Henry Higgins by the name of Victor Melling (Michael Caine, played with sweet effeteness). Melling goes through all the usual motions, from making Gracie spit out her gum to complaining about her posture and diction and so forth. Of course, his task is made easier by the fact that Bullock is naturally luminous, so while the cast is stunned when she strides out of an airline hangar in slo-mo looking like a beauty queen, none of us really are. The plot is pretty standard and we've seen enough of this type of stuff both on TV and in the movies to be able to figure out where it's going to go -- the nice girl at the beauty pageant ends up befriending Gracie, Matthews slowly starts to develop an interest in Gracie after she reveals to the world that she has breasts, and so on. And of course when the investigation starts to go south, Gracie is the only one whose instincts are correct, and so on. Nothing new or groundbreaking in the set up or execution here, which, given that Bullock is the sole producer listed, is a bit of a surprise. The performances are all okay. Bratt is surprisingly flat, and Ernie Hudson (who plays their boss) gives a rote performance as the tough, grizzled, "I don't care about your hunches, McBain!" type of law enforcement boss. Caine is pretty good and pretty likable as Vic, especially in the scene where he briefly hits on Bratt. Mostly he just apes the Higgins role to the letter, which is okay, I guess. All of the girls in the pageant are wholly unremarkable, which is not a terrible surprise, given that Gracie really needs to stand out. William Shatner has a small part as an over-the-top pageant host; he's okay but they never let him really cut loose. Candice Bergen gives a spirited performance as the main organizer of the pageant and a former beauty queen herself; she has more screen time and development than Shatner and as such is more enjoyable. But the whole movie basically rests on Sandy's shoulders, and the extent to which you like it will more or less depend on the extent to which you like her. Sandra has made a career out of playing a likable loon, and most of her fellow actors say she's a very warm and intelligent woman. I think in general likability comes naturally to Ms. Bullock, and it's certainly the saving grace here. The film boasts nothing extraordinary in any way save that Sandra decided to be in it. Gracie is no big departure for her, but she still turns in an

engaging performance and imbues her character with a certain sympathy. I found her at her best when she is teasing Eric about his newfound interest in her. She doesn't really have all that much chemistry with Bratt (they worked better off one another in Demolition Man); it's kind of like watching someone work with a mannequin. But Sandy has enough warmth for the both of them, so in the end it works out okay. Overall, you won't miss anything if you skip this film. You won't regret seeing it, but you won't leave the theater wondering how long it will be before you can own a copy. It's not a bad film for the year 2000 (more a reflection on a piss poor year than on this film's quality), and you could do a lot worse. Basically only recommended for the die-hard Bullock fans, which is a bummer because this movie should have had a wider appeal, but it doesn't. December 23, 2000

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