Bullock Takes a Caine-ing in the Pursuit of Beauty
Coming off of a string of what can only be called less than spectacular movies "Miss Congeniality" was the movie which reminded us that Sandra Bullock was a natural when it comes to that easy going, inoffensive comedy. Released back in 2000 "Miss Congeniality" is 110 minutes of entertainment from beginning to end, trading on a simple storyline, simple humour and more importantly no hidden agendas or moralistic message. It is what it is, just good old fashioned entertainment.
When a terrorist known as the "Citizen" threatens to target the Miss United States Beauty Pageant the F.B.I. decide that they need to go undercover and get an agent on the inside. But the only semi-suitable candidate is Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock - 28 Days) a tomboy detective who hates all things pink and fluffy. Put through a crash course and a massive makeover by expert model handler Victor Melling (Michael Caine - The Cider House Rules), Gracie finds herself in her worst nightmare forced to wear bikinis and wishing for world peace as she goes undercover as Miss New Jersey.
I would be lying if I said that within "Miss Congeniality" there was some amazingly clever storyline because it is as simplistic as they come and when it comes to the terrorist threat side of the movie it's easy to spot who the bad guys are as soon as the main storyline gets going. But then this isn't a movie which wants you to puzzle over who the "Citizen" is, it just wants you to have fun watching a tomboy forced into a pink pink world, so to speak. Part of its charm is in fact the storyline doesn't require great amounts of concentration and allows you to just have fun with what are often quite obvious gags. It's also nice that beneath all the slapstick and tom foolery there is no hidden agenda, no moralistic or political message to cloud the entertainment. It means that "Miss Congeniality" is pure and simple an outright easy going comedy.
It has to be said that much of the humour which flows through "Miss Congeniality" is pretty obvious and several of the jokes can be predicted long before they arrive. But even that slight bit of predictability doesn't spoil things as when Gracie topples over on her high heels, speaks with her mouth full or is forced to eat celery instead of doughnuts it's still humorous. Yes some gags do occasionally start to feel a little repetitive but there is plenty of humour going on to make up for those jokes which grow tiresome. It is often the simplicity of the humour that makes it work because like the storyline it doesn't try to be too clever with in jokes or dark humour, it just tries to be fun and succeeds.
If there was one sort of criticism it would be the rumblings of a romantic plotline between Gracie and Agent Matthews. It feels like it's been tagged on because it was expected but adds nothing to the actual movie. But whilst it doesn't add anything equally the movie would have felt odd and incomplete without it.
As for the performances well Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart feels at home playing the tomboy character and equally carries it off when turned into a beauty queen contestant. It's the sort of performance you expect from Bullock full of great comic timing and wise cracks although at times there are moments where it feels like she is just going through the motions, not quite giving it her all. The same can be said of Benjamin Bratt as Agent Matthews, he's funny and there is some genuinely funny moments but again he at times feels like he is just doing the minimum.
The real stars of "Miss Congeniality" are William Shatner and Michael Caine. Shatner is wonderful as the slightly dim witted compeer of the beauty pageant and the way he near enough pokes fun at himself is hilarious. Then there is Michael Caine who delivers the best character as Vic, charged with turning Gracie from being a tomboy into a beauty queen. It's a role which reminded me strongly of one he performed in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and the banter between Caine and Bullock is first rate, providing amusement when things start to get a little too run of the mill.
What this all boils down to is that "Miss Congeniality" is what it is, a run of the mill comedy which doesn't try to be anything other than be entertaining and amusing. It succeeds by being simplistic, never trying to cloud things with some moralistic feel good message and reminds us what Sandra Bullock is capable off when it comes to comedy. It certainly won't strain your brain whilst watching but will most likely make you laugh.