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Miss Congeniality 2:
Armed and Fabulous

Because you demanded it? When FBI Agent Gracie Hart won Miss Congeniality back in 2000, moviegoers felt warm and perhaps slightly manipulated, but they still enjoyed the film of the same name to the tune of over $300 million. Despite the fact, then, that Gracie appeared to be living happily ever after with a make-over and Benjamin Bratt, producer and star Sandra Bullock became willing to visit the character again.

That willingness, thankfully, did not translate into overeagerness. Thus five years passed while Bullock tried to find the right way into a sequel that would not just give us more of the same. She almost succeeded.

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous begins only three weeks after the first film, with Gracie finding herself too famous to be effective. In those three weeks, things moved awfully quickly, including her relationship with Bratt's fellow agent. Perhaps the actor wanted too much money to appear in the sequel; his punishment is to remain off-screen as the guy who broke Bullock's heart. Considering her status as an American sweetheart, this is a fate worse than a UPN sitcom.

However, Bullock is an actress that understands that a strong ensemble makes a film work. By losing Bratt, she makes up for it by giving a plum role to Regina King, and has no qualms about shifting focus to that character. From time to time, anyway; it's still Bullock's movie.

Becoming "the new face of the FBI" teams Gracie with King's Agent Sam Fuller, a Chicago girl with anger management problems. Gracie gets to be pretty; Sam gets to demonstrate self-defense techniques. If you had not keyed into it by now, MC2 works as a reversal of the buddy cop movie. Though a hint of romance smolders for ancillary characters, this time around the message is to be true to yourself, and possibly always keep a gay friend on hand for when you need to tart up.

Soon enough, an actual plot rolls into place, as Miss United States (Heather Burns) and pageant host Stan Fields (a largely wasted William Shatner) get kidnapped outside of Las Vegas. Because of Gracie's connection to Miss U.S., she and Sam get dispatched to handle press conferences, frustrating when, obviously, Gracie wants to solve the crime. Tantalized by the prospect, her image consultant Joel (Diedrich Bader) is only too willing to use his make-up skills to help her go back undercover.

The storyline plays out fairly predictably, but director John Pasquin does help the script throw in some zingers. With the loss of Bratt, Bullock's character has an underlying sadness that gives some weight to her occasional zany antics. Pasquin also makes the gender reversal of all the buddy cop clichés play out without stretching the imagination, right down to the inevitable fight between them.

Even the flaming Joel displays subtlety, though a lot of the credit belongs to the underrated Bader. This guy consistently makes the most of whatever role he has, and only rarely chews scenery in doing it. He resists the temptation to go over the top well past the point a lesser actor would have given in; when put into a chorus girl outfit, though, what else can you do?

Unfortunately, almost every other actor is wasted. Treat Williams plays a cardboard cut-out of the annoying new supervisor. Reprising his role from the first film, Ernie Hudson has little to do but offer exposition, though he tries to at least give it humor. Perhaps a lot of stuff got cut out, because no other explanation could cover why Elizabeth Rohm plays an agent that appears almost as an afterthought.

The saddest cameo of the year has to be former great tough broad Eileen Brennan provides a crucial bit of information playing William Shatner's mother. Actually, she's still a great tough broad, but she's also seven years younger than Shatner. No toupee or plug will make up for that.

Few sequels explore new territory, so Miss Congeniality 2 gets some points for trying not to just be a rehash. But even as it entertains, it feels a bit unnecessary. At least Gracie comes full circle, which should spare us a Miss Congeniality 3 in 2010.


Derek McCaw

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