CINEMA SIGNALS

. "Miss Congeniality"

This film is contrived to exploit the talents and beauty of its star. Its contrivances are numerous and obvious; its existence as a star vehicle is clear and undeniable; its situations are artificial and superficial. And, I loved it!

The reason is similarly clear: the talents and skills of its star are undeniable. Sandra Bullock is in a class of her own and it's only partly a matter of beauty. Perhaps the larger part is that shining, irresistible personality that lights a room, a runway, a silver screen. She can get you interested in the phone directory. In short, she's a star whose luminence shines very brightly, indeed.

In this vehicle, which she herself produced, she's Gracie Hart, an FBI agent with a penchant for brute clumsiness and an unquenchable drive to get the bad guys. She's uncommonly fierce in boxing and wrestling and other martial arts that are only hinted at here. And her eagerness to capture a bad Russian criminal results in the wounding of a fellow officer. She's in BIG trouble with her FBI boss. And, soon, her fellow agent, Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt) gets the lead role in dealing with a serial bomber who has threatened the Miss United States beauty pageant.

Since her boss has put her on relief of duties for a couple of weeks, she can't even get on the squad in this plumb case but, not to worry. After leading leader Matthews' inherently retarded thought processes to find someone to work undercover at the pageant as a beauty entrant, and after a computer search for candidates, it quickly becomes clear to her colleagues that she is the only agent amongst them who comes close to the qualifications for such a job.

Up to this point, cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs has lighted the lady in the most unflattering way possible. The light is bland, colorless and undimensional. We are meant to understand that she is plain and uninteresting, just as her compatriots think of her. We go along with this charade making her out as a dull klutz because once she's preened and trained by pageant consultant-trainer Victor Melling (Michael Caine) the glamor lighting and all the other accoutrements of star treatment are brought out in full splendor. Amazingly, Sandra Bullock then becomes a knockout! A thankless job, but somebody had to do it.

She looks so good that it even impresses pageant creator and co-host Kathy Morningside (Candice Bergen) who was also shamming a disbelief that Ms. Hart could ever belong on a walkway or stage. All credit to that forced-out-of-retirement trainer Melling. As for Stan Fields, Morningside's co-host of the show (William Shatner) he never downgraded her that much, anyway. In any case, they accept agent Hart as an undercover agent/contestant with the alias Gracie Lou Freebush and the fun of satirizing the goofiness behind these glamor contests begins.

It's pretty much fun all the way and not to be over-analyzed nor taken too seriously. Benjamin Bratt is handsome and lecherous, furnishing the romantic interest needed; Michael Caine is nicely controlled in his serious undertaking eschewing his signature histrionics; Candice Bergen is classy and believable as an ex glamour queen with a hidden agenda and Sandra Bullock is comedic and natural as only she can be. One can only admire this actresses' willingness to appear as bleached of natural beauty as Hollywood tricks can manage.

It's a pretty convincing argument for the premise that this lady is not driven by star ego in real life, traits we observe in her on-screen personas. In her comedic turns, she exhibits a selfless dedication to the zaniness of the role and puts us in mind of Lucille Ball, though Bullock seems more approachable and spontaneous. But, we pine for her in more serious work soon, perhaps in the line of "The Net" and "Speed".

According to the record, she's doing no less than 3 movies in 2001: "Murder by Numbers", "Exactly 3:30" and "The Chambermaid". Which is fine. I don't expect to tire of her anytime soon.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


The DVD


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"I like the movie. Sandra is very good but I really wished the director would have given Benjamin Bratt more lines. It's funny and can make you laugh when you feel sad. I think a part that all girls should see is when Bratt is in the pool wearing a black speedo! But other than that I would get the dvd when it's on sale for like 5.99."

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