If Sandra Bullock is America's girl next door, she peaked in high school. Speed tapped her ability to show normal, next-door reactions to insane circumstances, but that was six years ago. Since then she's tried on a series of ill-fitting dramas and romantic comedies, some of her own making.Bullock produced Miss Congeniality, and while it boasts neither the streamlined coltishness of a Julia Roberts vehicle nor the cuddly spunk of Meg Ryan's oeuvre, it ain't bad.
Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a tomboy FBI agent with extravagantly bad table manners and an endearing snort for a laugh. Plot contrivances put her undercover at the Miss United States beauty pageant, a manicured boot camp run by Candice Bergen at her most grasping.
This movie turns on predictable fish-out-of-water devices, and at first it seems like it'll be torture to sit through. But Bullock makes the most of the film's set pieces, including a sequence in which a squadron of beauticians conducts a military-style makeover on Gracie, and the interview round of the pageant itself.
Like the best romantic comedies, Miss Congeniality has an anarchic streak. When it shows Bullock performing her own version of classy-girl drag, it sends up the whole cosmetic-industrial complex.
What this film doesn't have, though, is a convincing leading man. Benjamin Bratt, playing Gracie's love interest, shows neither love nor interest.