Congenial as Sandra Bullock may be, this film simply isn't worth the double dip, says Judge Brett Cullum.
Gracie Hart: You think I'm gorgeous, you want to kiss me…You want to hug me…You want to love me…You want to hug me…You want to smooch me…You want to…
Sandra Bullock was on fire career-wise when she starred in a string of high profile hits like Demolition Man, The Net, and, of course, Speed in the early '90s. Then came her "dark" period, where even a sequel to Speed didn't make a blip on the box office radar (probably because of a new lead and a lame boat setting, but that's another story). She was struggling to find a movie to make her a household name again. So what's a girl to do? Why not produce your own movie? One where an ugly duckling Federal agent goes undercover at a beauty pageant? And to make things easier, just shoot it in your home town of Austin, and even use your house as a location for filming. Voila! Instant hit again. Miss Congeniality returned Bullock to the limelight, and became an apt moniker for the actress herself. Of course we've seen this movie on disc before, but on the heels of its forthcoming sequel here comes an "Ultimate Edition Gift Pack" with some new features and a CD to tempt you.
Facts of the Case
Gracie Heart (Bullock) is a Special Agent for the FBI who's always been scrappy and slobby. She doesn't care about being feminine, and she's tough as nails with a killer right hook. A terrorist plot threatens the Miss USA pageant, and suddenly she's assigned to go undercover (after a make-over) and pose as a pageant princess competing for the title. She's gonna need a lot of help from her partner Benjamin Bratt (perfecting his role getting beaten by women like he did in Catwoman) and her beauty coach Michael Caine (Secondhand Lions) to foil the evil plot and save the day.
It's odd Sandra Bullock chose this script to produce and star in. It seems like such a safe little flick, hardly stretches her acting, and only reinforces whatever preconceptions of her we had already. It's safe and silly. Miss Congeniality never aspires to be anything but good-hearted and goofy for one hundred and ten minutes. It doesn't have a single thing to say about FBI agents, pageants, or terrorists, and only succeeds in making all three look not that scary. And trust me, I'd take on the FBI or terrorists any day before I'd fight my way through a beauty pageant. The most accurate film about pageants I have seen was Drop Dead Gorgeous, which everyone mistakenly thinks is a black comedy, when actually it borders on documentary drama. It's no surprise that Miss Congeniality is mainly just funny and charming. Its title fits it to a tee! Yet the movie made over one hundred million dollars at the box office, and has now spawned a sequel.
What can I say about the movie? It's a pleasant light romp, and I certainly didn't mind sitting through it. It's a hard flick to come down on for any reason. You've got Bullock doing what she does best (being cute and funny), and a nice supporting cast that seems to be having a good enough time. William Shatner (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) makes a hilarious bumbling host, and Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown) gets to mug and have a Texas-size hairdo as a pageant owner. Benjamin Bratt gets to look fetching as the love interest, and Sir Michael Caine gives a moving performance that outshines the script, which never reaches for any true heights. His Pygmalion transformation of Bullock contains the best bits of dialogue and acting, and I sometimes wished the movie would linger on them longer. The pageant sequences are hilarious, and believe it or not most of the dialogue where the girls give stupid answers to stupid questions was based on real-life pageant reactions. But Miss Congeniality never treats any of its characters with contempt, so it never takes on the nature of a mean satire. It settles for placing the girls in a bizarre world where an impromptu coming-out speech from a contestant and an exploding crown make for good television.
The transfer seems to be the same one found on the previous release. It's colorful, and looks okay, save for some edge enhancement. The worst of that problem manifests itself most prominently in the FBI headquarters scenes. Flesh tones are real, and the black levels are very well controlled. The sound mix is a 5.1 surround track, and does a great job with the music and dialogue. It was a great transfer when it was originally done, and remains a good one by today's standards.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The new "Deluxe Edition" comes in two forms. You can get the disc alone (for $19 to $25), or get it packaged together with the CD soundtrack to the sequel (from $30 to $40). I'm not sure why you'd really want the one with the CD, since the soundtrack is mainly oldie hits (e.g. "New Attitude" by Patti Labelle and "Fire" by Ohio Players) and current trifle tracks (Pink's "Trouble"), but it does come with a free pass to Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. Carried over from the original release of the DVD are two commentary tracks. The first and best one features Sandra Bullock and the screenwriter Marc Lawrence. They are hilarious as they rip on each other and the movie for the entire run time, and offer tidbits about filming locations (mostly in Austin) and how digital effects were used to prevent anyone seeing that Sandra had pimples during most of the shoot. A second more technical track is offered by Douglas Petrie, who flies solo on his commentary. There are also two documentaries covering the pageant sequences, which are also carryovers from the previous release. The only new additions to the DVD are three deleted scenes (funny but inconsequential), a tortuously long "Do you have what it takes to be a Beauty Queen?" quiz hosted by Shatner (really painful and long), and eight minutes of fluff that claims to be a behind-the-scenes look at the sequel. Certainly nobody needs to double dip, and it's hardly anything deserving of a second release. Seems this is just another attempt to capitalize on the release of a sequel.
Even though Bullock claims she is a tomboy who knows little about make-up, it's hard to buy her as an ugly duckling. We know how gorgeous she is, and she hardly seems out of place among the pageant participants. The movie never has a hard time selling her as a beauty, but does seem unbelievable when we're supposed to buy that nobody sees her potential despite the drab hair and wardrobe choices. But then again this isn't meant to be a serious film in that regard, so it's a minor gripe in an otherwise pleasing film.
Miss Congeniality is a light frothy comedy that showcases Sandra Bullock quite well. It's funny, silly, and completely charming. I wouldn't upgrade to this edition if I had the previous release, but if you're looking for a new copy this one would be the choice if only for the deleted scenes. The gift pack with the CD is something major fans will clamor for, but the average buyer who just likes the movie will be fine with the DVD alone.
Guilty of being an obvious money grab to tie in with the release of the sequel. Otherwise Miss Congeniality is a funny film that does what it sets out to do just fine. If you like Sandra Bullock it's a no-brainer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Sandra Bullock and Co-Screenwriter Marc Lawrence
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