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Virtual Morality 

Can Pistol-Packin' Beauty Queens Save America?

IN THESE ETHICALLY confusing times when kids are having kids and drugs are ruining everything and the man who lost the election is becoming president, what America needs is a simple, straightforward, moral message. Or maybe even two simple, straightforward, moral messages. And wouldn't it be best if those messages could be delivered by a film that has lots of cute chicks in skimpy outfits?

Answering the call, Castle Rock Entertainment and Warner Brothers Distribution bring us Miss Congeniality, which has all of the above. Its first message: Violence solves everything. This is a good, old-fashioned moral message, a message that is at the heart of just about every police drama, action film and horror movie. Second message: Women would be much happier if they just learned to put on makeup and slutty clothing. I think we can all relate to that.

Miss Congeniality begins on the playground of Anyschool, U.S.A., where a young Gracie Hart, looking all tomboyish, intercedes in a fight between two young school fellows. Swiftly ascertaining that, yes, violence is the solution to the problem, she picks the less-cute boy and pounds the snot out of him.

Years later, we see Gracie all grown up, looking rather slovenly and tomboyish, and more than a bit like Sandra Bullock with her hair messed up so that no one could see that she's actually pretty underneath her gruff exterior.

Gracie is now an F.B.I. agent. You're probably thinking that she's a by-the-book, rule-following F.B.I. agent. Surely, you're thinking, she's not a maverick F.B.I. agent? Well, prepare to be surprised, because she is indeed quite the maverick. The idea of doing a film about a maverick law-enforcement official who does things her way, regulations be damned, may be too unsettling for the American public, but one really has to hand it to the corporate producers of Miss Congeniality for taking a risk with this daring concept.

After nearly screwing up a bust with her maverick behavior, Gracie is taken to task by her supervisor, played by Ernie Hudson. If the name Ernie Hudson doesn't ring a bell, maybe this will help: If Ernie Hudson were to single-handedly win the World Series while simultaneously disarming a nuclear weapon and accepting the Nobel Peace prize, and was then feted at a presidential dinner, the president would no doubt introduce him as "the black Ghostbuster."

So anyway, in a plot twist never before seen in any other cop movie, Gracie is told that she is so maverick that she'll have to sit at a desk for a while. I'm sure you're probably thinking, "I guess this movie is over ... what can she do from a desk?"

Well, guess again ... Gracie gets a break from her desk assignment because, it turns out, she is the only agent who can handle the very important job of going undercover at a beauty pageant. Because, of course, in spite of having thousands of agents, the F.B.I. has only one who looks good in a swimsuit.

But how on earth will they transform tomboyish maverick Gracie Hart into a beauty queen? Such a thing is impossible, n'est-ce pas?

Wrong again! An entire team of pedicurists and makeup artists and leg-waxers and homosexual men is brought in and voilá, Gracie Hart is transformed into Gracie Lou Freebush, Miss New Jersey 2000.

Now Gracie (a.k.a. Gracie Lou) must find out who is planning to attack the Miss United States pageant. In order to do this she must humiliate herself by wearing skimpy and ridiculous outfits, holding her chin up and chewing with her mouth closed.

She also must learn that beauty pageants aren't sexist, outdated relics of an oppressive patriarchy, but are, rather, great places for women to grow and learn about themselves and make special friends. Because, c'mon, it's the year 2000, can't we get over all this "politically correct" stuff about how it's demeaning to judge a woman by how she looks in swimwear?

Oddly, while she's being transformed into a living Barbie® doll, Gracie manages to catch the eye of fellow F.B.I. agent Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt). Shockingly, Matthews, who has always thought of Gracie as "just one of the guys," suddenly begins to see her as a woman. You know, someone he might want to get it on with.

Will the two of them come together in a surprising romantic twist? I won't give away the super-secret surprise ending with its unprecedented kiss between the two characters who have been butting heads throughout the film in order to disguise their romantic interest in each other, but be prepared for what the Lithuanians call "romance."

In spite of its shocking originality, Miss Congeniality could not be said to be a truly successful film, if only because it is so incredibly boring. Bullock tries her hardest to liven things up with her slapstick antics, but there just isn't enough script to keep her going. There's some nice comic relief from William Shatner, who's now made a career out of playing a parody of himself, but he has only a few scenes. Even Michael Caine, who's as impeccable as always playing Gracie's beauty consultant, can't do much for this film.

But perhaps boredom is a small price to pay when there is a moral lesson to be learned, a lesson that is best summed up as follows: When in doubt, strap a gun on a supermodel.





Miss Congeniality is playing at Foothills (742-6174), Century Gateway (792-9000), Century El Con (202-3343), Century Park (620-0750) and DeAnza drive-in (745-2240).
Miss Congeniality
Rated NR
Director: Donald Petrie
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson and Candice Bergen

More by James DiGiovanna

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