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Warner Bros.

Official Site

Director: John Pasquin

Producers: Sandra Bullock, Marc Lawrence

Written by: Marc Lawrence, Katie Ford, Caryn Lucas

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Enrique Murciano, William Shatner, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns, Diedrich Bader, Treat Williams


Ah, sequels.

To wit: The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty considered John Boorman’s much-maligned follow-up The Exorcist II: The Heretic such a wretched abomination that he was the first to start giggling at the world premiere, wrote and directed a third installment that blithely disregarded the existence of the aptly-named “number two,” and later commented publicly that Boorman mucked up the job because he was a Protestant.

The good news for Sandra Bullock and company is that far less general ugliness and non-secular mudslinging likely awaits their recent foray into the tenuous realm of the rehash, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous. For one thing, Miss 2 does not in any discernible fashion attempt to sever the thematic umbilical cord binding it to its 2000 predecessor. The spirit of Miss Congeniality, chapter the first, is transplanted fully intact and undisturbed into the body of its heir. (So, too, is the lion’s share of the script, near as I can fathom.) No Boorman-esque swarms-of-locusts imagery or tap-dancing numbers here—the purists rejoice. Also, the bar was set appreciably lower for Armed And Fabulous. (These things make it a better sequel?) Most of all, though, it’s reasonably difficult to imagine original director Donald Petrie gleefully sticking it to John Pasquin with Miss Congeniality 3: All That Crap In The Second One Totally Never Happened And Pasquin’s A Dirty Heathen Liar.

So Bullock is back—as lippy FBI super-agent Gracie Hart, fresh from foiling a murderous plot against the Miss United States beauty pageant via an adorably foible-fraught undercover stint as Miss New Jersey (in the first one). But what should have been a career-making bust turns out to be a career-shaking one when her newfound celebrity jeopardizes a covert mission, leaving a fellow agent wounded and Hart wrestling with the possibility that she is now ineffectual in the field (the point of the FBI being that you can’t immediately recognize their operatives). Throw in a pathos-heavy subplot wherein poor Gracie unceremoniously gets the ax from her Miss 1 love interest, (played in that film by Benjamin Bratt, represented in this by the inaudible end of a phone conversation, as the filmmakers deftly [NOT] sidestep the need for a Bratt cameo—sorry girls… no Pinero this time,) and for the first 10 to 15 minutes you find yourself nursing the faint belief that Armed And Fabulous might just have a mind of its own. The opening scenes pop—the dialogue is crisp and clever, the film takes good-natured shots at itself and its star that hit their marks, Bullock does her funny, self-deprecating, regular-girl-gets-shit-upon cocktail (which she has by now honed to the point of virtuosity)… things are going well. The script stays strong through the introduction of mean-ass Regina King, whom we meet mid-hip-throw, as she tosses hapless stuntmen this way and that in the first of what will be many, many displays of just how easily Regina King can beat your face in. King, coming off a riveting performance in Ray, slums it a bit to play Sam Fuller (!), Bullock’s no-nonsense new partner/borderline sadist. The first meeting between the two, a spirited exchange of verbal barbs and playground-caliber shoving, provides the one of the earliest and most satisfying big laughs of the picture. Sadly, it also accounts for one of the last. It is immediately following King’s first scene or so that the quality dips dramatically, and the script quickly devolves into a harum-scarum parade of plot-lifting, familiar faces and eye-batting textual hearkening back to the original—the latter two of which are wrung dry of their cuteness very early on.

The thing is—and here’s the part where I sheepishly jettison my credibility as a reviewer—I didn’t hate the original Miss Congeniality. Somewhat far from it, in fact. I thought the writing, for what it was, was tolerably clever, the story was hackneyed, but pulled off with aplomb, and Miss Sandra, as is often the case, charmed the pants the rest of the way off. Try as you and I might to deny it, the girl is eminently likable, and unusually funny. She’s like the cynical, hipper, beatnik Julia Roberts, but less irritating. There. I said it. I like Sandra Bullock. Good. I feel better. Lighter, even.

But though Bullock and King periodically create enough of a diversion to wrest the latter goings of Miss 2 from the doldrums and cudgel out a snicker or two, there just isn’t enough there to salvage in any meaningful sense. Miss veterans Heather Burns and William Shatner are trotted out as victims in a weak and transparent “kidnapping” storyline, but to little avail. The talented Burns, who somehow manages to do the airhead thing sans cliché, is about as entertaining as she was in the first one, but is given little to do and less time with which to do it. Shatner has the unintended effect of being a contextually tragic character—he has virtually no real lines, and is used almost as a visual pun, as if it’s funny enough to see him working. The only laughs associated with him come when other characters, in his absence, cheekily knock his singing—and this, too is overdone. Diedrich Bader (Oswald of “The Drew Carey Show,”) is brainlessly thrown in as the ever-so-tired “flamboyantly gay fashion guru,” to fill the void left by Michael Caine. I could try to find fault with Bader, but really—what does one do with such a part? In a tiny semi-bright spot, newish face Enrique Murciano exhibited a little Jake-Gyllenhaal-style kicked-around charm, but his role was too small to offer much.

Your first instinct—“Who the hell was clamoring for a Miss Congeniality sequel?”—is right. But thanks to what is presumably the same mystifying and dark enclave of society that demanded The Chronicles Of Riddick, we have it. Armed And Fabulous may be no Exorcist II, but it’s no The Empire Strikes Back, either. Heck, it’s no Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey. Worse, as Bullock and King walk smiling side-by-side into the night in the final shot, enemies vanquished and flanked by their “colorful” supporting cast of “lovable oddballs,” one gets the sinking feeling that the seeds are sown for an even more impetuously green-lighted follow-up to round out the trilogy. Sigh. Bring on the locusts.

--Brian Villalobos

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