Friday, March 25, 2005
"Armed and Fabulous" would make a fine stand-alone title for this movie. It's too bad the phrase "Miss Congeniality 2" precedes it.
The thought of another sequel hitting cineplexes is already daunting, especially when attached to a fairly forgettable comedy from five years ago.
Yet as far as extraneous sequels go, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" is just amusing enough to warrant its existence. What helps the project is that it isn't simply a retread of the first movie (a la "The Ring 2"). The idea of a 40-year-old Bullock competing for tiaras with girls half her age is ludicrous anyway, so the filmmakers wisely ditch that element.
In my review of the original film, I pointed out the two aspects that worked the least were the relationship with her "pretty-boy jerk" boyfriend (Benjamin Bratt) and the absolute falseness of the FBI mingling in a national pageant. Both of these storylines are dropped in "Miss Congeniality 2."
Instead, the movie takes its established character and uses her as the center of a buddy cop plot. The result is clunkier in design but has a few more laughs than the original.
Following her successful infiltration of the Miss United States Pageant, FBI agent Gracie Hart (Bullock) discovers her escalating fame has made undercover jobs impossible. So the bureau gives her a PR assignment as the "face of the FBI." Accompanying her on the talk-show circuit is new partner Sam Fuller (Regina King), a tough Chicago transfer who is not enamored with guarding "FBI Barbie."
When the reigning pageant winner (Heather Burns) and its abrasive emcee (William Shatner) are kidnapped, Gracie and Sam head to Las Vegas to solve the mystery and hatch a rescue.
As with the first film, which was often carried by the charm of its star, the sequel stays enjoyable primarily because of the chemistry between its two stars. Most buddy pictures start with polar personalities who gradually learn to like each other. Usually this thawing isn't always believable, coming across more like a mandate of the formula than a natural progression of the relationship. Bullock and King figure out how this dynamic should be played.
King -- who probably deserved an Oscar nomination for her jilted backup singer role in "Ray" -- takes a character who is often ill-tempered and humorless and makes her sympathetic. Her Sam is a good foil for Gracie, not because they're so inherently different, but because Sam is who Gracie USED to be.
It is a little cloudy how much Gracie is supposed to have changed in this follow-up. Great attention is paid to how she has become more image-conscious now that she resides in the media glare. She's actually given a flamboyant personal stylist (Diedrich Bader) who tags along even during the more dangerous excursions the agents go on. (Apparently Michael Caine wasn't available to reprise his beauty consultant role.)
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous **
Sandra Bullock reprises her butch-turned-beauty FBI agent in this follow-up to the 2000 comedy. "Armed and Fabulous" doesn't just mirror the plot of the "agent undercover at beauty pageant" original, but instead turns it into a buddy-cop tale. Overall, the sequel has more laughs, though it's far clunkier in design.
But it's never made clear if Gracie is supposed to be genuinely caught up in her newfound glamor or faking like she's caught up in it.
Thanks to the lead performers, the smaller conversations and confrontations in the movie work better than the moments that seem to be gunning for outrageousness. For instance, there's a bit set at a drag show in which Gracie and Sam find themselves donning elaborate costumes for covert snooping. They inevitably are compelled to take the stage -- with Gracie in a "Big Bird" showgirl outfit and Sam dressed as Tina Turner -- and respond by lip-synching to "Proud Mary."
It's hardly a laugh riot, but director John Pasquin ("The Santa Clause") apparently thinks it is. He lingers on the sequence for minutes past its expiration date.
But it's difficult to find much fault with "Miss Congeniality 2." The sequel is as good-natured as it is unremarkable. "Armed and Superfluous" makes a more fitting title.