"Miss Congeniality" (IMDb listing) is a film that rests entirely on Sandra Bullock's fragile shoulders. Without help from director Donald Petrie or the many screenwriters, Bullock is left alone to anchor "Congeniality" with her considerable charm. The Bullock on display in "Congeniality" is the shrill, predictable comedienne we've all seen before and "Miss Congeniality" is a weak comedy that razzes yet again on the beauty pageant world a world that has gone through the ringer so much recently yet I can't remember a time when we took pageants seriously.
Bullock stars as Gracie Hart, a tomboy federal agent assigned to track down a serial bomber who has targeted the Miss United States Beauty Pageant as his next show of force. With the help of a beauty consultant (Michael Caine) and her partner (Benjamin Bratt), Gracie sheds her outer slob layer and becomes a participant in the pageant, with serious chances of actually winning the crown as she hunts for the bomber amongst the contestants.
What makes "Miss Congeniality" so heartbreaking is that Bullock has shown in the past that she is an immensely talented actress who can do comedy with the help of a nurturing director. In "Hope Floats," directed by Forest Whitaker, Bullock gave her best performance &151; a performance that suppressed all the improvisational aspects to Bullock's acting and made her stand up straight and just act. But "Hope Floats" didn't make as much money as mundane fare like "While You Were Sleeping" so now we're forced to endure another round of Bullock playing cutesy. It doesn't do her justice, and "Congeniality" suffers from relying too much on Bullock's sense of humor to make it all palatable.
By picking on beauty pageants, "Miss Congeniality" isn't forging any new ground. With last year's travesty "Drop Dead Gorgeous" and Sally Field's recent "Beautiful," the gags are all dried up. The bulimic jokes fall flat, the gay hairdresser bit is beyond played out, and god forbid we have a look at beauty pageant contestants that doesn't portray them as malicious airheads. All of "Congeniality" feels familiar, from the "Law & Order" opening sequence to the routine romance subplot featuring Bullock and the oddly charmless Bratt.
In fact, I couldn't help but be reminded of another film that is awfully similar to "Congeniality's" style. Ivan Reitman's "Kindergarten Cop" also has a butch-cop-to-puppy-human transformation plot with a little ultraviolence in the opening and closing of the film thrown in to keep us awake. At a quick glance, both films couldn't be further apart, but after deeper inspection, I think lawsuits should be filed.
Of all people in the world to save "Miss Congeniality" from total disaster, would you believe that Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, is the funniest thing in the entire movie? As the self-absorbed host of the pageant, Shatner gets to have all sorts of fun as the prima donna bitch that he is. He comes out of left field and surprises with his performance. It's these kind of surprises that "Miss Congeniality" should have had more of.
Filmfodder Grade: D+