Before her gender stereotype makeover in the powder puff comedy ‘Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a frumpy, unkempt, ”unfeminine” FBI agent who eats like a linebacker and stumbles over her own feet as regularly as Bill Irwin in a clown routine. Then, in humiliating punishment from a macho colleague (Benjamin Bratt), she’s sent to pose as a contestant in the ”Miss United States” beauty pageant, because the Feds get a tip it may come under terrorist attack.
Under the guidance of a washed up pageant consultant (Michael Caine), Gracie Hart becomes Miss New Jersey (har har), emerging as sexy but approachable, svelte but with an appetite for donuts – voilà! – she’s Sandra Bullock, one of the most likable but least successfully developed marquee caliber actresses today.
Perhaps because jokes about the agony of women competing for tiaras and wrestling with leg wax have recently sunk ”Beautiful” and ”Drop Dead Gorgeous,” ”Miss Congeniality” lucks out by comparison; it’s not mean or intentionally condescending. Besides, amid the pro forma hilarity, two participants are truly funny: William Shatner makes an excellent, self-regarding, Bert Parks-like emcee. And the great Candice Bergen (a suggested role model for Bullock in defining a persona without denying beauty) steals her scenes as a terrifying pageant director.