Dir: Sally Field. US. 2000. 112 mins.

Prod co: Beautiful Productions. Int'l Sales: Cathy Morgan International (310) 979 9100. Prods: John Bertolli, B.J. Rack. Exec prods: Richard Vane, Kate Driver, Wendy Japhet, Barry London, Brent Baum, Steve Sabler, Marty Fink, David Forrest, Beau Rogers. Co-prods: Mark Morgan, Jon Bernstein, Jade Ramsey. Scr: Jon Bernstein. DoP: Robert Yeoman. Prod Des: Charles Breen. Ed: Debra Neil-Fischer. Mus: John Frizzell. Main cast: Minnie Driver, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Joey Lauren Adams, Kathleen Turner, Leslie Stefanson.

The tears and tackiness of the all-American beauty pageant have proved fertile ground for spiky, acid-tipped satires over the decades, stretching from Smile in 1975 to last year's Drop Dead Gorgeous. Beautiful is a particularly bland addition to the genre and marks a disappointing feature debut for Oscar-winning actress turned director Sally Field.

Much of the film's problems lie with a sentimental, soft-centred screenplay and an irritatingly self-centred leading character who inevitably acknowledges the error of her ways in a final reel of redemption and reconciliation. Commercial interest seems marginal with international prospects more likely to embrace a direct-to-video release than a full-scale theatrical opening.

Minnie Driver stars as Mona, a young woman with a merciless, life-long dedication to her dream of being crowned Miss American Miss. Introductory sequences in 1986 and 1992 reveal the full extent of her adolescent ambition before the film moves to 1999 and her last campaign for the title. By now, best friend Ruby (Adams) has been raising Mona's child as her own so that Mona doesn't fall foul of the competition rules that bar single mothers. In the run up to the final, nurse Ruby is confined to prison on a false charge of assisting a patient's death, leaving Mona with responsibility for her own daughter and a sobering chance to discover her real priorities.

Lacking any kind of venomous wit, Beautiful takes a few mild pot-shots at some very obvious targets. Despite distractions along the way for jealous rivals and unloving parents, the focus is on Mona's journey to finally becoming a fully-developed, responsible grown-up.

Unfortunately, the odds are so stacked in her favour and the circumstances of her salvation so contrived that few will care. In a film that constantly fails to make the most of its material, the all too brief appearance of a stylish Kathleen Turner as a beauty pageant grand dame is another cause for regret.