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'Miss': Not Even Close

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 22, 2000

   


    'Miss Congeniality' Sandra Bullock becomes a beauty pageant babe in "Miss Congeniality."
(Castlerock)
Well, they got the title half right.

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 revealed.

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 queen.

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 long.

"Miss Congeniality" (PG-13, 110 minutes) – Contains mild obscenity, a bloodless shootout and ogling of women in bathing suits.

 

Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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