Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

I can summarize my opinion of “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” with a moment from the film itself. After a cheesy wordplay from a beauty consultant named Joel falls completely flat, the character, played by Diedrich Bader, just sighs loudly at the joke’s ineffectiveness. And we as an audience can only share his sentiment after watching this uninspired sequel, which comes four years and three months after “Miss Congeniality”.

Whereas MC was mild fun redeemed in good part by the beautiful Sandra Bullock, MC2 is just middling, and that’s being generous. It begins three weeks after the first film, where FBI agent Gracie Hart (Bullock) saved the day at the Miss United States pageant. It now seems she’s so well known that everybody in New York City recognizes her in public (that pageant’s telecast must have had record-setting ratings). This state of affairs makes Gracie a liability in special operations, and so she’s given a choice by her boss (Ernie Hudson): either she becomes a paper-pusher or she agrees to become “the new face of the FBI”, where she’ll blissfully smile her way through talk show appearances and book signings.

The screenwriter is Marc Lawrence, who must be a favorite of Bullock: he also wrote MC, “Forces of Nature” and “Two Weeks Notice”, one of the wittiest and most engaging romantic comedies of recent years. He couldn’t resist recycling some of the ideas of the first film, although with strongly diminishing returns. For example, what was once mildly amusing, like Gracie demonstrating self-defence on Benjamin Bratt, becomes tired slapstick with Regis Philbin as the victim. And the female bonding doesn’t convince much. You see, Gracie is given a partner-bodyguard in agent Sam Fuller (Regina King), who got transferred from the Chicago office because of anger management issues. Lots of clashes ensue before some sudden experience-sharing bring the two women closer. And wouldn’t you know it, these two gals will need to work as a team when it is learned that Miss Unites States, that girl Cheryl (Heather Burns) whom Gracie befriended, has been kidnapped for ransom in Las Vegas, along with emcee Stan Fields (William Shatner), by a couple of redneck brothers. Following a chain of events too rushed or silly to explain, Gracie, Sam and Joel are on their way to the glitzy town in the desert. As part of the investigation, Gracie finds herself part of a drag show in which she wears a flamboyant costume with shades of pink and yellow that may have been handpicked or rather pawpicked by Barney the dinosaur (here’s a good candidate for a Where Are They Now- so we can avoid that place at all cost). The colorful and, I must say, very sexy stagewear comes courtesy of costume designer Deena Appel, who has had ample experience with flashy clothes by working on all three Austin Powers movies.

The costume’s hot, but with its feeble attempts at humor and haphazard plot, MC2 simply shows that female buddy movies can be just as cloying as the lesser examples of their male equivalent. For one thing, the role of Joel is completely unnecessary. All through both movies, Gracie maintains her no-nonsense attitude but sort of embraces her feminity more. Why in the world would she need a pale copy of the stylist that was played by the great Michael Caine? The girl can take care of herself. And the screenplay jumps from moment to moment as if in a hurry to set up whatever setback is headed Gracie’s way, whether it be the mess at the bank where everybody knows her or the Las Vegas bureau chief (Treat Williams) who wants her off the case and on the next flight out of town.

Director John Pasquin has helmed feel-good fare like “The Santa Clause” and “Jungle 2 Jungle”, and you would think that with a likable and energetic lead like Bullock the result could be a charmer. But that would demand a much better and more coherent story than this. For the most part, “Miss Congeniality 2” feels just as fake as those Tina Turner impersonators.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay