'Miss': Not Even Close
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2000
Well, they got the title half right.
Sandra Bullock becomes a beauty pageant babe in "Miss Congeniality."
The "miss" part, that is, as in "hit or miss." Whether you find this
made-for-TV-grade dreck about a tomboyish FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) going
undercover at a beauty pageant "congenial," let alone "funny," depends on how
much eggnog you drink before the opening credits. The jokes are lame, the
set-up is stupid and Bullock, occasionally a winsome comedienne and here a
co-producer, is annoying as heck.
It's not entirely her fault though. As written by Marc Lawrence, Katie
Ford and Caryn Lucas, the character of Gracie Hart is a walking cliché:
She's mannish because she eats red meat, drinks beer, wears glasses, has a
brain and can defend herself. Oh, and she's got an adenoidal laugh borrowed
from Fran Drescher, late of "The Nanny," which (surprise!) co-writer Lucas
used to write for. It's not until pageant consultant Vic Melling (Michael
Caine) gets her fluffed, buffed and exfoliated and stuffs her into a
streetwalker's dress and high heels that her worth as a woman is fully
At least in the eyes of co-worker Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt), a
piggish fellow G-man with a George Hamilton perma-tan and the secret hots for
Gracie (he just doesn't know it yet). When a Unabomber-style terrorist
threatens the Miss United States Pageant, off the two go to infiltrate the
pageant, with Gracie calling herself Gracie Lou Freebush (heh-heh).
Unfortunately, the film succeeds neither as beauty-contest parody (all the
old jokes about padded bras and blonde bimbos are trotted out) nor as
fish-out-of-water farce (the gag of Bullock in her Miss New Jersey sash
tripping on a pair of stilettos is about as fresh as things get).
One high note: Continuing his self-deprecating priceline.com shtick,
William Shatner plays buffoonish contest emcee Stan Fields. Unfortunately,
director Donald Petrie (of "Grumpy Old Men" fame) can't figure out how to
make similar hay out of Candice Bergen, who, as pageant director Kathy
Morningside, never rises above the stereotype of a shrewish washed-up beauty
As for the "mystery," you'll probably guess who the terrorist is a good
half hour before the script tells you, but that's only if you've been paying
attention. With a film this stupefying, it might be hard to stay awake that
"Miss Congeniality" (PG-13, 110 minutes) Contains mild obscenity, a
bloodless shootout and ogling of women in bathing suits.