July 31, 2020
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Miss Congeniality

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Miss Congeniality
Miss Congeniality
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt
Director: Donald Petrie
Rating: **

The movie has had its share of bouquets and brickbats abroad (with one grumpy critic calling Bullock a nice girl who needs to go home), and one can see the reason why. On the face of it, this is an average movie, about a female fbi agent's infiltration of a beauty pageant, and the guffaws and laughs that emerge from the situation. But it also collides social types—the uncouth, scruffy, cynical, tough girl cop (Sandra Bullock), who hates and badmouths beauty pageants, especially their persistent and dumb desire for 'world peace', is herself transformed into a stunning piece of meat for the event. Her brief is to save the pageant from a possible terrorist attack, but the process gives her the much-needed ego boost—it also makes her confront the kind of person (an ugly duckling full of attitude) she was becoming.

These then are the highlights. But what lets the film down is the script. The terrorist angle is clumsily handled without much imagination—the main villain's character emerges suddenly out of the blue, without a build-up. The motive too is reduced to some vague resentment against the way beauty pageants build and downsize individuals. This robs the movie of a credible plot, which was necessary for a full exploration of Bullock's character. She is after all the misfit who punched boys in class, and loves beating up her colleagues if they cross the line. But she is also a woman with pressures to go on a proper date and a hidden streak to compete with the more feminine and desirable members of her gender. Without the solid background that made, say Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, enact a sophisticated man-woman relationship in Proof of Life, her role tends to meander towards the predictable. These gaps are filled occasionally by the supporting cast, which includes Michael Caine as Bullock's silky-smooth but stressed-out gay pageant coach. He saves the movie by his deadpan wisecracks, and gives an example of how to combine sympathy with a studied nonchalance. A parallel track, involving Benjamin Bratt, Bullock's fuzzy love interest and fbi colleague, is suggested but never fully probed. The movie suffers from the kind of crisis that has seized Hollywood comedies of late—at the end of the day you've got to be politically correct and sentimental. This kills the fun—the worst part comes when Bullock tries towards the close to praise the bimbos she is supposed to spoof in typically Hollywoodish, mushy and tacky close-ups.

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