*/**** Image B Sound B Extras B-
starring Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen
screenplay by Marc Lawrence & Katie Ford & Caryn Lucas
directed by Donald Petrie
by Walter Chaw It starts pretty early on when a waitress at a Russian restaurant stands in front of a surveillance camera, causing the boys in the van to exclaim that "this broad has two asses!" (hey, if it's good enough for Porky's, right?)--and it's all downhill from there. Donald Petrie's Miss Congeniality has something to do with an ugly, bitter, uncouth woman discovering true happiness (love, career success, respect) by waxing her area and strutting down a runway. Confused? At least. Especially when the ugly woman in question is Sandra Bullock, who has made a career, more or less, out of being the beauty queen you think you have a shot at. The girl who binge eats like a hot dog eating contestant, records SportsCenter, and can still shimmy into her size 4 nightgown becomes a different kind of pornographic fantasy when you need a quick reminder of who has a real penis and who just has a gun--think There's Something About Mary without the irony. A scene before mutt becomes mah-vellous, in which she's watching past beauty queens for tips on how best to go undercover as a pageant contestant and offers a litany of comments on the women's intelligence, isn't so much hilarious as it is mean. And it's made worse by the end of the film, when all of the convenient bimbo stereotypes are bolstered and magnified rather than shown to be unkind shorthand.