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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 19:00 GMT
Miss Congeniality not all smiles
William Shatner and Sandra Bullock
William Shatner and Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

In Miss Congeniality Sandra Bullock plays a dowdy and slovenly FBI agent who, in the words of one character, looks like a "car wreck".

Michael Caine and Sandra Bullock
Michael Caine beautifies Sandra Bullock
If that is enough to test the limits of anyone's suspension of disbelief, then Sir Michael Caine's role as a gay beauty pageant consultant shatters any lingering hold on reality.

Bullock plays Gracie Hart, an FBI agent who enters a Miss USA pageant in order to catch a serial killer who has threatened to cause mayhem and murder.

Ridiculous

If that sounds ridiculous, it is.

But the film is undeniably funny, in patches.

At times it threatens to veer into the realms of Airplane! and the Naked Gun film series, only to pull back at the last moment, leaving the script teetering on the brink of farce.

Sandra Bullock
Bullock plays an undercover FBI agent
Sandra Bullock as the wise-cracking FBI agent "without a detectable smidgen of oestrogen" has all the best lines, and she is clearly a gifted comic actress.

She excels at playing the self-effacing girl next door, with the witty oneliners and dangerous right hook.

This is very much her film - she is not just the star, but also the producer and, apart from a few brief scenes, she is constantly on screen.

Padding

The rest of the cast are mere visual and verbal padding.

Benjamin Bratt is the token love interest, William Shatner is woefully underused as the host of the Miss USA contest and Caine is horribly mis-cast as the gay pageant consultant.

As Victor Melling, he helps Bullock's character undergo the transition from homely officer of the law to svelte, ubėr-babe and pageant contestant.

But the film never amounts to more than a collection of stereotypes in search of a punch line.

Leisurely pace

There are some funny set-pieces - Bullock's liberal flashing of her FBI badge to bust through a crowd and get to the front of a queue at coffee house Starbucks, and her attempts to walk like a woman raise a laugh.

On the whole, the films weaves at a leisurely pace, with a few swipes at the fashion industry - although no-one is allowed to take this too seriously because this is a comedy, after all - and the all important transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan for Bullock at the centre of the movie.

The film is decidedly plotless until someone remembers movies generally have to have a beginning, middle and end, although not necessarily in that order.

A ham-fisted finale involving the inevitable capture of the bad guys rounds things off, leaving smiles on the faces of the cast and, possibly, a smile on the face of the audience.

Miss Congeniality shows in the UK from 23 March.

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