2000's hit action-comedy "Miss Congeniality
" was the epitome of a safe, good movie. A prime star vehicle for Sandra Bullock (2002's "Two Weeks Notice
"), the film's only aspiration was to entertain a wide audience. The results were as fluffy as a shortcake, but also undeniably charming, with sloppy, plain field agent Gracie Hart forced into an extreme makeover in order to go undercover at a Miss United States beauty pageant. That innate likability has trouble carrying over to "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," a wholly unnecessary sequel that is inconsequentially plotted and predictably tired. Surely Bullock, who has lately seemed to only appear in a film every couple years, could have found something more advantageous and worthwhile to work on than this threadbare project.
Although almost four and a half years have passed since the release of "Miss Congeniality
," in movie years it has been less than twelve months. Having returned to her crime-fighting job in New York City, Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) has found it increasingly difficult to work incognito when she has become something of a role model and celebrity. However, Gracie has no choice but to do just that when current Miss United States Cheryl (Heather Burns) and pageant coordinator Stan Fields (William Shatner) are ruthlessly kidnapped and held for ransom. Traveling to Las Vegas to investigate the crime, Gracie is paired up with tough, stalwartly independent bodyguard/agent Sam Fuller (Regina King), a no-nonsense type that she must learn to get along with if there is any hope of saving her friends.
At no time during "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" does director John Pasquin (2001's "Joe Somebody
") and screenwriter Marc Lawrence (1999's "The Out-of-Towners
") make a convincing case for this follow-up's reason for existing. Following the same basic formula as the original, but with Gracie Hart taking various guises rather than just one, the film's pacing this time around is sluggish rather than fast and frisky, and its paper-thin plot just a contrived, decidedly shameful excuse to bring back the protagonist of "Miss Congeniality
" in hopes of making a few brisk dollars at the box-office.
Hindering much of the proceedings is Gracie Hart herself. Her very amiability in the first picture was in the way she stayed true to herself, never losing sight of the happily dorky woman beneath her newly coifed exterior. In "Miss Congeniality 2," she again starts off this way, but once her newly beauteous transformation takes place, it turns her into someone bordering on self-involved and snotty. While Gracie ultimately experiences a catharsis by film's end, realizing that the beauty inside a person is what counts, the trip to this realization tests one patience. Until that happens, she simply isn't very likable. As for the disguises she must take on as her investigation presses forward, they are an unoriginal, distaff lot. A wheelchair-bound senior citizen? It was already done to greater comic effect when Jim Varney did it in the "Ernest" series. A singing male cross-dresser at a Las Vegas nightclub? 2004's "Connie and Carla
" beat it to the punch. More often than not, though, Gracie Hart is just playing herself, albeit a more neat and well-dressed version, and the investigation that carries the movie through its paces is strictly forgettable and vaguely plotted, at best.
If the movie never really catches fire and its trajectory is obvious from the start, there are a couple of laughs and some nice character moments in the second half that manage to rise above the muck. A scene in which Gracie tackles Dolly Parton (in a game cameo) to the ground, mistakenly believing her to be an impersonator tied to the kidnapping, is so zany and over-the-top that it actually works. Another running gag in which Gracie must deal with her fake old-lady breasts while attempting to seriously do her job is also quite funny. And the effortless Eileen Brennan (2001's "Jeepers Creepers
"), in a two-minute walk-on as Stan Fields' wily mother, has the pleasure of delivering the movie's wittiest line. Meanwhile, the love-hate relationship between Gracie and Sam, played with delicious sarcasm and underlying depth by Regina King (2004's "Ray
"), is promising enough that it's a shame it couldn't have been put into a better screenplay worth caring about.
There is a lightning bolt of desperation running through the center of "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" that gives the film a shopworn, tacked-on feel. The bright on-location shooting in Las Vegas gives the production values a boost, and Sandra Bullock and Regina King bless the film with sporadic class, but that is where all signs of respectability end. The vast majority of the picture is stodgily substandard, with the supporting actors, including wasted fellow series returnees Heather Burns (1998's "You've Got Mail
") and William Shatner (2002's "Showtime
"), hopelessly searching for something to do in a lame duck of a story that does them no favors. Happy to recycle ideas from other movies but with nothing fresh or interesting to offer up on its own, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" is one of the most listless and lazy non-horror sequels in quite some time, reminiscent of 1993's "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit." Gracie Hart may still be armedshe is a special agent, after allbut her sheer fabulousness has come to a rather abrupt and unfortunate end.