Miss Congeniality (2000) / Comedy-Thriller
aka Miss Undercover
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, sexual references, and a scene of violence
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Caine, Candice Bergen, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns, Melissa De Sousa, Steve Monroe, Dierdre Quinn, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Asia De Marcos, John DiResta
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenplay: Marc Lawrence, Katie Ford, Karyn Lucas
Review published March 30, 2005
Call it a guilty pleasure if you must, but I do find Miss Congeniality to be one of Sandra Bullock's (28 Days, Forces of Nature) most entertaining comedies, despite all of the things going against it. It is a ridiculous idea for a movie, not really making a great deal of logical sense sometimes, and it's a bit contrived at others, but the performances and cast chemistry do save the day. As silly as it might be, it is surprisingly witty at times, with some good in-jokes and off-the-cuff sarcasm that sneaks up on you to win you over. In short, if you like Bullock and her girl-next-door charm, it's as easy and breezy as it gets, but in a good way this time.
Bullock plays Gracie, a tomboy FBI agent that fits in as "one of the guys" in her unit, for good reason. She walks and talks like they do, not really knowing what it is to be feminine or pretty, but she lives for her job, doing anything to take down the bad guys. The Feds are currently investigating a notorious serial killer who speaks in cryptic messages, and from what they can decipher, it seems the next location for mayhem is to be the Miss United States beauty pageant in taking place in Texas. They need someone to go undercover to try to catch the killer, but it seems all of the female agents are either too old, unattractive or on maternity leave, so Gracie is the reluctant choice to be a contestant in the pageant. Although she has a raw look, getting her in believable pageant shape is a daunting task, as she is as rough and rude as it gets.
Like many successful law enforcement comedies, Miss Congeniality is constructed around the premise that it is the little off-color jokes that the guys jab each other with in the office that makes for a fun time. It works quite well here, as it is indeed fun to see Bullock and Bratt's (Red Planet, Clear and Present Danger) competitive relationship, and some of the jokes at the expense of the disapproving assistant director, played by Ernie Hudson (The Watcher, Shark Attack) . In short, you like the characters and their camaraderie, and even when the movie takes a turn into areas that risk bogging the film down with seriousness, the witty banter keeps the jokes constantly coming and the tone always light throughout.
There are also some great performances by a supporting cast, with an especially good turn by Michael Caine (Cider House Rules, The Island) as the pageant advisor called upon to turn Bullock's ugly duckling into a graceful swan. William Shatner (Star Trek: Generations, Shoot or Be Shot) and Candice Bergen ("Murphy Brown", Sweet Home Alabama) are also well-cast in their roles as the soon-to-be-fired-for-younger-talent fogies of the pageant hosting world.
Miss Congeniality is far from perfect, as underneath the good-natured comedy, there is a very dumb story, although director Donald Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Welcome to Mooseport) adeptly keeps the darker plot elements to a minimum. The slapstick is sometimes hard to take, as we get to see Bullock slip and fall one too many times, and the fact that Bullock, even in her "ugly" mode is still a pretty decent looking woman to buy that a bunch of undersexed FBI agents wouldn't notice. You'll just have to put the thinking cap aside for this one and enjoy it as a smart dumb comedy, in the same vein as Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Legally Blonde -- thoroughly feminine appeal, but spunky enough to appeal to men as well. The perfect antidote to predictability and contrivance is in charm and humor, and Miss Congeniality has these in abundance.
-- Followed in 2005 by Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous.
©2005 Vince Leo