When a notorious criminal mastermind known only as the Citizen threatens to terrorize the Miss United States Pageant, the FBI scours their ranks to find a female agent capable of winning the contest and capturing the killer before it's too late. Special Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) may be the most physically beautiful woman in the Bureau, but her tomboyish lack of feminine grace jeopardizes the plan and spells disaster. Forced to turn to the once-proud beauty pageant consultant Victor Melling (Michael Caine), Agent Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) tries to accomplish the impossible goal of transforming Hart from an unrefined rogue to a model candidate of elegance, poise, and style, with the irresistible power to win the pageant and simultaneously catch the killer. MISS CONGENIALITY combines the hilarious physical comedy and girl-next-door charm of Sandra Bullock with Michael Caine's trademark British wit and impotent outrage, adding up to a devastating orgy of comedy, glamour, and catastrophe.
It's a good thing Sandra Bullock knows her strengths and weaknesses, because without Bullock as star and producer, Miss Congeniality would be an insufferable mess as opposed to being a mildly enjoyable trifle that is custom-made for Bullock's established screen persona. Only Bullock's fans could really appreciate this fluff (even then they'll wish its ripe premise had been more intelligently handled), but it's not without some highlights to accompany Bullock's reliable charms. Here she plays clumsy, nerdy FBI agent Gracie Hart, who is given the horrific pseudonym Gracie Lou Freebush (one example of the movie's juvenile tendencies) when assigned to infiltrate a beauty pageant to investigate threats of a terrorist attack. Transforming Bullock from frumpy to stunning is a piece of cake (although she gives pageant coach Michael Caine a run for his money), so the movie's premise is trivial at best. More enjoyable is her character's uncouth disdain for pageant contestants and her mistaken perception that they're all a bunch of bimbos. The movie nicely charts Gracie's realization that her own pageant makeover provides a much-needed ego boost. In addition to Caine's effortless scene-stealing, pageant host William Shatner and organizer Candice Bergen are smart choices for comedic support (Shatner's a perfect Bert Parks wannabe), but the movie desperately needs a credible foundation for its comedy to really pay off. Bullock's bureau boss (Benjamin Bratt) is an unconvincing dimwit, and none of the plotting is as smart as say Beverly Hills Cop in combining procedure with laughs. That leaves Bullock to carry the burden of a comedy that just barely works in her favor. --Jeff Shannon
If you are one of Hilary Duff's most ardent pre-teen fans, chances are you'll find something to enjoy in A Cinderella Story, but everyone else should proceed with caution. It's an updated fairy tale for the age of instant messaging, which is how Sam (Duff) develops a crush on Austin (Chad Michael Murray) before realizing that this Tennyson-quoting poet-at-heart is actually her San Fernando Valley high school's star quarterback and most desirable hunk. In a role that squanders her proven comedic gifts, Jennifer Coolidge is Sam's Botox-injected evil stepmother, and lame attempts at comedy turn her dimwitted stepsisters into buffoons, like many of the other cast members who struggle to find anything funny in the screenplay. So we're left with the bland, blonde charms of Hilary Duff, who fared better in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, but manages to salvage her mainstream appeal in a comedy for which "cute" is not necessarily a compliment. --Jeff Shannon
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