Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:51 - Released 12/22/00

Sandra Bullock, longtime star and recent producer of fluffy, inconsequential comedies, continues unabated with the fluffy and inconsequential Miss Congeniality, written by Marc Lawrence (Forces of Nature), modeling industry exec Katie Ford, and TV writer Caryn Lucas, and directed by Donald Petrie, who has helmed comedies such as Grumpy Old Men and My Favorite Martian. Taking a potshot at the beauty pageant industry, Miss Congeniality is entertainment as light as a well-shaped hairdo, fitted out with skin-deep characterizations and a plot that has the all complexity of a G-string bikini.

Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a feminist FBI agent assigned to go undercover at the Miss United States pageant, where a crafty serial killer is expected to make his next strike. The killer has a habit of sending clue-filled riddles to the agency right before each crime, and his latest epistle implies that he (or she) is targeting the pageant, perhaps even posing as one of the contestants. Although Gracie has a history of being clumsy, unkempt, argumentative, and a pig (she even snorts when she laughs), and is appalled at the idea of associating with 49 airheads, she is chosen for the job for two reasons: 1) she is a self-defense expert, and 2) she's the only agent with a body capable of competing in the swimsuit competition.

Gracie's superior on the case, Eric (Benjamin Bratt), makes a deal with pageant coordinator and former Miss United States Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen) to fix the pageant so "Gracie Lou Freebush," as Miss New Jersey, will make it to the top 5 but not win the contest. But in order to transform her into a believable candidate, renowned beauty consultant Victor Melling (Michael Caine) is hired to do the mother of all makeovers. While she is being beautified and taught how to walk, talk, eat, etc., and practicing dance numbers during the night, Gracie gets to know the other contestants and tries to figure out whether the killer is among their ranks. Soon, however, she finds herself making friends with many of the girls, especially the ditzy Cheryl (Heather Burns), who represents Rhode Island. By the time of the pageant, her attitude toward the exploitative pageant industry and its brainless contestants has changed.

This film is the cotton candy of the movie industry. Bullock does an adequate job, and Bergen and William Shatner, who plays the Bert Parks-type pageant emcee, are ridiculously stereotypical. Bratt is bland as Gracie's superior and the mild romance between them seems tacked on as if director Petrie thought the film wasn't complete without a drippy kiss at the end. Michael Caine is perhaps the most amusing character, generally stealing scenes throughout, but overall, the film is strictly video rental material. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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