Directed by: John Pasquin
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Enrique Murciano, Diedrich Bader, William Shatner
The only reason that watching Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous isn't the worst way you could kill two hours right now is the fact that The Ring 2 is still playing. Otherwise, this seemingly interminable sequel would win that distinction in a walk.
What were the filmmakers thinking? I mean, what besides making a second trip to the barn to milk the $300 million cash cow that was Miss Congeniality? Now, I never saw the original, but I have to assume that it was better than this movie. I certainly hope that's the case, because the sequel is a largely unfunny mess that wastes the considerable talents of Sandra Bullock.
And while I'd like to feel sorry for Bullock, she brought this one on herself: Just witness her producer credit -- the one made up like a neon sign that appears to call her the "Sandra Bullock All You Can Eat Dessert Bar" (a concept I'll let pass without comment).
The law of diminishing returns is a common affliction with sequels, but this sequel is afflicted by something more. The movie seems to be taking a proven concept and removing the elements that apparently worked, while expecting to obtain the same results.
Though I'm in the minority, I actually liked former Family Ties-writer Marc Lawrence's last script for Bullock, Two Weeks Notice, since it produced a sure-footed souffle of a romantic comedy. Moreover, Lawrence directed that film and seemed to understand both the importance of chemistry between the leads and the things that make Bullock an appealing actress.
What went wrong here? Part of the problem is the shoddy, paceless direction by John Pasquin, another Family Ties alumnus, whose major theatrical credits consist of most of the collected works of Tim Allen. But as much as his direction harms the film, Lawrence's script is the real banana skin under the feet of Miss Congeniality 2.
First of all, the whole set-up makes no sense. The movie opens with post-beauty contest Gracie Hart (Bullock) back in the fray, working undercover in an FBI sting operation -- despite the fact that her mug is plastered all over the newspapers. When the sting goes wrong because she's recognized, it comes as a surprise to everyone but the viewer.
OK, so realism isn't the order of the day, but neither, it turns out, are the basics of romantic comedy. Gracie's boyfriend from the first film summarily dumps her without so much as a guest appearance. (Does Benjamin Bratt command so much money that the filmmakers couldn't even afford his disembodied voice on the phone?) The breakup might have been workable if the film offered a replacement boyfriend, but all Gracie gets in the way of compensation is a stereotypical gay fashion expert (Diedrich Bader, Napoleon Dynamite) and a chip-on-the-shoulder sidekick bearing the improbable name of cult-movie director Sam Fuller (Regina King, Ray).
Indeed, for a movie aimed at the romantic-comedy crowd, Miss Congeniality 2 is the soul of anti-romance. The only relationship in the film turns out to be one in which one partner is cheating on the other in order to advance her career!
Worse, the movie suffers from Legally Blonde 2 syndrome. In other words, the main character has to forget everything she learned in the first film so she can learn it all over again in the second. But instead of turning back into an air-head so she can get smart again, Gracie has forgotten even the simplest things she learned about personal appearance and poise so she can ... you get the idea.
What this leaves us with is an unwieldy plot and a lot of bickering -- followed by odd-couple bonding -- between Gracie and Sam.
Moreover, the plot can't settle on its own motives. First, the dimwit kidnappers seem to have focused on how much the beauty pageant folks will cough up to retrieve Miss USA, Cheryl Frasier (Heather Burns from the first film), only to have it turn out that she was less the object of their snatch than pageant host Stan Fields (William Shatner).
All of this could be forgiven if the movie was funny, or even if it just wasn't so damned dull. There are occasional humorous bits -- mostly when the film allows Bullock to indulge in unselfconscious physical comedy (as when she's in her own guise but still encumbered by her fake "old lady" breasts from a previous disguise). A few of the exchanges of dialogue are amusing, but rarely more than that, apart from Shatner's classic outburst, "There's a cannon in my porthole!"
Mostly, the film just marks time as it slowly makes its way to a decidedly undersized big moment -- a drag show that aims for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert heights but comes nearer the depths of Connie and Carla. The absurdly unthrilling finale attempts to eke suspense out of placing Gracie in supposed mortal peril, but it's a misfire all down the line. Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke