Miss Congeniality

on December 22, 2000 by Christine James
   If "The Facts of Life's" Jo Polniaczek were forced to have a makeover and embark on a "Charlie's Angels"-type mission to unmask a "Scooby Doo"-caliber villain, the whole "I Love Lucy"-pitched megillah might look like "Miss Congeniality." Sandra Bullock is thoroughly drabified as the graceless Grace, a tough, rough-around-the-edges, utterly unfeminine FBI agent who must pose as a beauty queen in order to track down a terrorist threatening to bomb the Miss United States contest. Her co-worker and crush (Benjamin Bratt) puts her in the hands of the snooty, once-esteemed Henry Higgins of the pageant world (Michael Caine), who's lost his standing but none of his talent. Working as he never has before and issuing such imperatives as "More...fluffy," "Eyebrows: There should be two!" and "Another two coats and some shellac," he attains the impossible and transforms the trenchant tomboy into a glib glamour girl.

   That's the fun part. Things get as shaky as Grace adjusting to high heels when her warranted contempt for her vapid competitors is worn down by nothing more than superficial bonding at a giggly pizza party. When her new best friends get into an appalling catfight over the crown, it is mystifying that she still feels compelled to protect them from the sitcom breed of nemesis that's stalking them. All this brings about a pallid romance of the "I love you, you're perfect, now change!" variety in which Grace's fellow agent discovers her inner beauty just in time to benefit from her newly found external va-voom as well.    Starring Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen and William Shatner. Directed by Donald Petrie. Written by Marc Lawrence. Produced by Sandra Bullock. A Warner Bros. release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 110 min.

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