Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Miss Congeniality (2000)

There's no prize for Miss Congeniality (Deluxe Edition).

Good laughs are hard to find in this romantic comedy from director Donald Petrie and starring Sandra Bullock. Sandra, I'm grateful for the memory of While You Were Sleeping, Speed and Gravity while watching this tripe.

My humour meter saw little movement for much of this often dull and dumb movie. Reporters will often note the first shot on net if a hockey team's offence is lacking. Well, I clocked my first laugh during Miss Congeniality at 43:45. That's well into a third of this movie. How could a sequel follow?

Not only are laughs hard to come by. There's also situations too hard to believe in this film.

Audiences are supposed to buy Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is not an attractive woman. Hello! My eyes are nearing 50, but FBI Agent Hart still looks good to me before her transformation by beauty pageant guru Victor Melling (Michael Caine) and a small army of hired guns.

What's striking is her hesitation, and uncomfortableness, speaking up about what she believes to be true. Gracie, you're an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is the big time. How could you get hired if you were so lousy in the communications department?

What's also confusing is the running gag about Hart's obsession with doughnuts. For someone who supposedly doesn't eat well, Agent Hart isn't carrying a lot of extra weight. So, she must exercise a lot - such as with the punching bag in her apartment. Let the woman eat.

Hart is assigned to be a contestant in a beauty pageant. The annual scholarship contest is likely the next target for a terrorist, The Citizen. This film came out a year before a series of terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. I imagine the plot - a comedy riffing on a terrorist attack - would have been deep sixed if this movie went into production after the Twin Towers came down. It feels creepy.

Hart's makeover draws the attention of fellow agent, and womanizer, Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt). So, Matthews won't pay any attention to Hart when she's an ugly duckling. Suddenly her physical appearance gets honed and Matthews is enchanted. Hey, Hart! Is this the type of guy you want to be with? An always on-the-go Romeo eager to make the moves on just about any attractive woman he crosses paths with? I don't understand.

Back to the FBI angle. Hart gets a good lead that The Citizen is someone associated with the pageant itself. She pipes up about why she thinks a lead her boss and the rest of the agents are keen to follow a false lead. They don't listen. Hey, Harry McDonald (Ernie Hudson). You're the boss. Where'd your brains go?

Miss Rhode Island (Heather Burns) is played up as a complete airhead, but she's working on a post-graduate degree in nuclear fission. Someone with those kind of brains is not going to be the ditz Miss Rhode Island is here.

I feel bad for Candice Bergen, as long-time pageant boss Kathy Morningside. Her character is a joke. William Shatner is emcee Stan Fields. Captain Kirk isn't well-served here either. The only veteran actor who shines bright is Caine. Some of his barbs about Hart fall flat, but he does score some zingers too. "I haven't seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park," he notes during his first meeting with the federal agent.

Despondent after the film's first 70 minutes, I clung to hope that things would pick up. They did. There are some very funny moments in the last 40 minutes of Miss Congeniality. Matthews getting recruited for Hart's talent demonstration is funny. Hart battling with other contestants to save The Citizen's intended target is funny. Morningside's final zinger to Hart - "When I met you, Dennis Rodman looked better in a dress," - is funny.

But boy, there's a lot of hard slogging to get those laughs. I'd strongly suggest voting for another comedy when laughs are on the menu.

RATING: 5/10

FUN FACTS: 2000 was a busy year for releases starring Michael Caine and Benjamin Bratt. Bratt also appeared in Traffic, Red Planet, The Last Producer and The Next Best Thing. Caine was featured in a remake of Get Carter, Shiner and Quills.

Miss Congeniality (Deluxe Edition) marked the film debut for Asia De Marcos, who appears as Miss Hawaii.

Yes, Deirdre Quinn - who appears as Miss Texas - gets credit for singing Debbie Boone's You Light Up My Life.

Miss Rhode Island (Cheryl Frasier) also appeared with Bullock in Two Weeks Notice in 2002.

Ernie Hudson appeared in an episode of Diff'rent Strokes.

Donald Petrie directed Mystic Pizza in 1988. That was Julia Roberts' third film appearance.

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