Here we go: another case of good idea, shame about the execution. Sadly, Sandra Bullock's latest proves that, once again, it's all too easy to take what seems to be a fine premise for a dippy, freewheeling culture-clash comedy and turn it into a blurry lump of vaguely amusing bleargh.
For all its occasional bursts of charm, Miss Congeniality feels like it was just thrown together without much thought. Take Bullock's casting as the geek-turned-goddess. Yes, she's a perky, chirpy light comedy actress but that's not quite enough here: she also has to convince as an aesthetically-challenged nerdy loser. And, with even the most enthusiastic disbelief-suspension in the world, that baby just isn't going to fly.
At least when Drew Barrymore scruffed up for Never Been Kissed, she acquired greasy hair, spots, specs and braces. All Sandra bothers to do here is adopt a patently false snorty laugh and let the occasional lock of split-endy hair fall across her face. And that's nowhere near enough to convince anyone that this woman isn't already drop dead gorgeous (the title of a much funnier film about beauty pageants, by the way).
It's not a fatal problem, but then Miss Congeniality doesn't fail because it falls badly short in any one particular category - it's because it marginally misses the mark in all of them. Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then let's take it from the top... My Favourite Martian director Donald Petrie tells the story competently enough but without any real flair. With the exception of Caine (coasting but still class) and the marvellously slimy Shatner (as pageant host Stan Fields),the bit-part players never quite come into focus. The good relationships (Caine and Bullock) don't get enough screen time, while the bad ones (Bullock and the brain-numbingly dull Bratt) get too much. The dialogue, meanwhile, is just a little too arch, the slapstick a smidgeon too forced and the narrative, even for a romantic comedy, a shade on the predictable side (anyone who can't spot the beauty contest's eventual winner - not to mention all of the final five runners-up - with half an hour to spare really isn't paying attention).
Each of these little niggles on their own isn't enough to ruin a film. Lump them together, however, and they could take the shine off even a gold-plated winner, let alone a chrome-covered also-ran like this.
Still, coming off the back of a string of duff projects (can anyone even remember Bullock's last good film?), at least Miss Congeniality has given the producer/leading lady a hit in the States. And when you're edging towards the point at which the celeb police want to take away your A-list status, perhaps that's all that matters.
Clumsy and lazy, Miss Congeniality may not be a horribly bad movie, but it really isn't very good either. For every chortle to be had, there are half-a-dozen more winces, yawns and moments spent checking your watch.