Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt, Candice Bergen, William Shatner

Street-wise FBI Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) has faced many life-threatening situations in the line of duty. In the case of The Citizen, America's most infamous criminal who has threatened to bomb the Miss United States beauty pageant, Gracie faces her toughest assignment yet. Unfeasibly, the best plan that New Jersey's finest can devise to scupper The Citizen's dastardly scheme is to place Hart undercover as a contestant in the pageant finale. Severely lacking in social graces and resolute stranger to the strappy sandal, Hart is understandably reticent to join the 'bikini-stuffers' and to shed all professional dignity to bring the criminal world to rights through 'Operation Thong'.

Can this unkempt, wise-cracking, beer-swilling tomboy 'without a detectable smidgen of oestrogen' be transformed into a potential pageant winner within 48 hours? Of course she can - she's played by Sandra Bullock, whose innate beauty cannot be disguised, even by a few weeks' eyebrow growth and slightly tangled hair. One makeover sequence at the hands of queenly image consultant Victor Melling (Michael Caine) and a 'why Miss Hart you're... beautiful' moment later, Gracie is ready to take on the job. Under the guise of Miss New Jersey, a.k.a. Gracie Lou Freebush, Agent Hart is transformed from miscongeniality to Miss Congeniality and learns about love, life and, most importantly, about herself in the process.

Unbeknownst perhaps to the film-going public - it certainly was to me - Sandra Bullock's unique style of physical comedy, according to the film’s production notes, has garnered her a reputation as a modern-day Lucille Ball. This may well be true, but it certainly isn't apparent from this clichéd, ill-conceived, sometimes shockingly politically incorrect star-vehicle. The film's initial premise (catching the criminal), clearly a flimsy pretext to get Bullock onto the screen in order to marvel at her crazy capers, is ultimately near-forgotten as Hart goes from gruff, unattractive feminist to sexy starlet, ultimately discovering that superheroes can be supermodels too. Appearances from William Shatner and Candice Bergen (in her first film-role in fifteen years) as the Pageant's co-hosts provide the only flicker of interest in a film that is as disagreeable as its title implicates.

Nickie Byrne