Continuing to play on her feisty "Miss Congeniality" charm and oozing her cute, lovable, girl-next-door charisma, Sandra Bullock mines essentially the same territory as before in this fluffy, ultralightweight 2005 sequel, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous." As I said the first time around, no one does this kind of thing better than Bullock, but I have to wonder for how long she can continue to pull it off. Perhaps for as long as it pays.
Her director on this shift is John Pasquin, who started in television, where it shows. His most notable big screen efforts were directing Tim Allen, another television guy, in the movies "The Santa Clause," "Jungle 2 Jungle," and "Joe Somebody." Except for "The Santa Clause," which had a good premise, his other work, including this one, impresses me as completely mundane, a series of static scenes strung together with everything but a laugh track.
I didn't care much for the original "Miss Congeniality," and I liked this sequel even less. But what do I know? Bullock's fans flocked to see the first film to the tune of over $100,000,000 and the sequel at nearly $50,000,000. With DVD sales, those numbers will double. Who can blame her from wanting to capitalize on the popularity? Yeah, well, I can blame her because I think she's capable of much better work, as "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway," "Speed," and "While You Were Sleeping" proved. But we've got what we've got. Onward.
As you no doubt recall from the first movie, Ms. Bullock plays Gracie Hart, a tough, single, no-nonsense FBI agent who somehow got herself mixed up in an undercover operation at a beauty pageant that made her into a national celebrity. Now, everybody in the country knows her from her participation in the contest and her derring-do therein, which subsequently renders her useless as an operative in the field. We know all this from an absurd opening scene in the new picture during which she and a team of agents try to infiltrate a bank to foil some baddies. A woman at the bank recognizes Gracie and insists upon not only getting her autograph but yelling her name all over the room. It's silly and unfunny, but it establishes the fact that Gracie can no longer work undercover.
The question, then, is what the Agency is to do with her. They decide to capitalize on her fame by making her "the new face of the FBI" and sending her on promotional tours. A ghost writer pens her autobiography, "From Misdemeanors to Miss Congeniality," and she goes to book signings and appears on talk shows, all the while promoting the glories of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Her main job is to smile a lot. There's nothing funny here.
In the course of things, the Agency determines to team her up with an operative that nobody else in the organization wants to work with, Sam Fuller (Regina King), a young lady with an anger-management problem. Everybody hates her, and she hates everybody. Gracie is her last chance with the FBI because Gracie is agreeable to working with her as her assistant and, later, her bodyguard. But Sam hates Gracie for being stuck-up, even though Gracie is the only person willing to give her a chance. They argue and fight, literally, for almost the entire movie. Their constant bickering and rivalry is supposed to be part of the movie's humor, but I found it mean-spirited and irritating. There's nothing funny here.
Gracie also undergos a complete makeover: New wardrobe, new cosmetics, new hair style, the works. For this transformation, the Agency assigns her a personal stylist, Joel Meyers (Deidrich Bader), a shameless gay stereotype. Despite his prancing and mincing and flouncing around in a typically overt effeminate manner, there's nothing funny here.
Along the way, we also find out that Gracie is terribly despondent over her boyfriend ditching her. She becomes morose and self-pitying, when she's not being conceited, self-centered, and high-handed from all the attention she's getting. Far from being funny, the whole idea is depressing.
The plot involves Gracie and Sam trying to rescue two of Gracie's old friends--Stan Fields, the beauty-pageant host, and Cheryl Frasier, Miss United States--from a pair of moronic kidnappers in Las Vegas. As Fields, William Shatner reprises his role from the first movie; he's the only actor in the picture who seems to understand that he's in a comedy and that he should show a sense of humor about it. Heather Burns returns as Cheryl, Gracie's beautiful but airheaded best friend.
Ernie Hudson plays McDonald, the nice-guy head of the FBI's New York bureau, and Treat Williams plays Collins, the not-so-nice-guy head of the FBI's Las Vegas bureau. Hudson was funnier busting ghosts, and Williams was better substitute teaching. That leaves only Enrique Murciano as agent Jeff Foreman unaccounted for, a character who is supposed to be Gracie's liaison in Vegas. It's a thankless part as he mainly has to follow Gracie around trying to keep her out of trouble. Like the rest of the movie, there's nothing funny here.
The highlight of the story is presumably a sequence in a drag club where Gracie and Sam pretend to be female impersonators. This bit, too, is formulaic and flat and does nothing to further the plot or the characterizations. It's just thrown in out of nowhere, as if screenwriter Marc Lawrence thought to himself, "I've got to do something to liven this up. I know: I'll put Bullock and King in funny drag costumes." The actual reasons have to do with getting past a security guard to interrogate a suspect, but it's pretty far-fetched.
Las Vegas is loud and glitzy and fake, and almost everything about this movie matches suit. The pounding nonstop music; the cartoonish characters; the ludicrous situations are all loud, glitzy, and fake. Even the movie's subtitle, "Armed and Fabulous," is overblown. And does the "fabulous" business have anything to do with Ms. Bullock's co-producing the thing?
It's seldom that one finds so bland a comedy as this, unless you make it a habit to watch bad sitcoms on TV. When the movie ends in a burst of sentimental claptrap, it only makes things worse. I wonder if filmmakers start with a script anymore.
One final concern popped into my head only after I'd finished watching "Miss Congeniality 2." What if it wasn't supposed to be a comedy at all? What if I misinterpreted the whole thing, and it was really intended to be a straight drama with occasional light, humorous overtones? And what if pigs had wings?
The picture quality lives up the standard of most good Warner Bros. transfers. It's presented in an anamorphic widescreen that measures very nearly its 2.35:1 theatrical-release ratio. The colors are bright and vivid and reasonably sharp in outline. And while there is little or no visible grain, there is a slightly rough look to some of the scenes. Mostly, though, it's exemplary.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound takes a while to warm up. At first, I was a little disappointed in it because it didn't show me much. The sonics are clean and clear, but for most of the first half of the movie there is little action in the rear channels, and voices are firmly anchored out in the center speaker. Then, as the plot thickens, the surrounds are used more aggressively for crowd noises, musical ambiance enhancement, crickets chirping, and the like. Finally, by the film's climax, all of the speakers come alive with booming cannons, deep bass, strong dynamics, and pinpoint channel separation. Wait for it; it'll happen.
The main attraction here is a twelve-minute series of "additional," meaning deleted, scenes. It's hard to tell from watching these scenes how the filmmakers decided what was bad enough to leave out. My cynical response to the potential viewer is to skip the movie and watch the additional scenes. There's little difference in quality. Beyond this bonus item, there are thirty-one scene selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
I still have no idea why Sandra Bullock made "Miss Congeniality 2," beyond the obvious paycheck. Surely, she must have realized that the screenplay for this sequel was dull and humorless and that, besides, virtually all the life had been sapped out of the movie's premise the first time around. And why at age forty would she still be wanting to do this cute-as-a-bug's-ear, twenty-something routine when she should be able to get any part she wants in more mature roles, comedic or otherwise? I dunno. I can only assume it's either vanity or a very persuasive agent. On the other hand, she co-produced the movie, so maybe it's entirely her fault. In any case, I trust she's enjoying the money.