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Stay home and watch paint dry instead

'Miss Congeniality' no prize-winner

graphic

In this story:

Crummy script

Benjamin Bratt battered



(CNN) -- With "Miss Congeniality," Sandra Bullock has done it again. She's succeeded in squandering her enormously likable persona -- and her box-office star power -- on yet another ill-conceived, lame-brained, half-cocked comedy.

Bullock plays Special FBI Agent Gracie Hart, someone more fed than feminine. She's just another guy, living in a guy's world, and she likes it that way. She's described by another character as a woman "without a detectable smidgen of estrogen."

Sooooo, when she's forced to go undercover as a contestant in a beauty pageant to capture a serial killer, her lack of feminine skills have been fully documented, underlined and highlighted. We get it already!

What could be funnier then seeing a woman who appears to be allergic to all things female suddenly teetering on high heels, getting a bikini wax and learning how to apply makeup? What could be funnier then sticking her in with a group of women she describes as "a bunch of bikini stuffers who only want world peace?"

What could be funnier? Well, how about watching paint dry?

Crummy script

Everyone involved in this project is ill-served by this sophomoric script from Marc Lawrence ("Forces of Nature," 1999), Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas (TV's "The Nanny").

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Michael Caine plays a Henry Higgins-type character who is given the titanic job of transforming Gracie into a picture-perfect pageant contestant. Every one-liner that comes out of his mouth is pat and predictable.

That's not all that's predictable, either. After her makeover, Bullock strides out of an airplane hangar, where dozens of beauty experts have supposedly slaved for hours turning this ugly duckling into a swan. As the music swells, the film goes into slow motion. The earth stands still. She's beautiful! Oops! She trips, and Gracie is back. Surprise, surprise.

Others trapped in this mess include Candice Bergen playing a former beauty queen and head of the Miss United States Pageant -- the contest, by the way, which is the target of the mad killer. Even William Shatner, who's known more for schlock than Shakespeare, looks embarrassed playing the veteran emcee of the cheesy event.

Benjamin Bratt battered

But the actor suffering the most abuse in "Miss Congeniality" is Benjamin Bratt, who plays Eric Matthews, her fellow agent and boss on this particular operation. In one scene he's a clueless idiot; in another, he's large and in charge. Later, he's her romantic interest -- only to become just another one of the guys. Whatever serves Bullock's character at any moment, in any given scene is how Bratt's character is twisted, bent and mutilated. He's not a man in this film; he's a pretzel.

Director Donald Petrie's record with comedy is even more dismal than Bullock's. This is the guy who brought us the film version of "My Favorite Martian" (1999), then rendered Whoopi Goldberg unfunny in "The Associate" (1996) and inflicted the perfectly wretched "Richie Rich" (1994) on an unsuspecting public. In Hollywood, they say, you're only as good as your last project. The fact that this guy is still working proves all rules are meant to be broken.

Bullock is a gifted comedienne, make no mistake. She has excellent timing and can do a pratfall with the best of them. But apparently, when it comes to her own production company and picking her own projects, she becomes myopic. "Hope Floats" (1998), "Practical Magic" (1998) and "Gun Shy" (2000) are recent examples of a good actress traveling a bad road.

In all fairness, it's not easy finding decent scripts, be they comedy or drama, for leading ladies. But Bullock seems to be stuck in a rut of cookie-cutter roles in films with half-baked concepts. She could be the poster child for "bad movies that happen to good people."

She needs roles more congenial than this.

"Miss Congeniality" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated PG-13.



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