Newsflash: Bruiser is gay. Somehow, Elle (Reese Witherspoon) missed this detail concerning her beloved Chihuahua, though it was clear enough since his first moments on screen in Legally Blonde. His outing is hardly an upset in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, as Elle is, of course, a terrifically open-minded mom. In fact, it only serves to emphasize her generosity and sweetness, as Bruiser’s business tends to do.
It is Bruiser’s business that instigates the action in LB2, as Elle goes to Washington to stop animal testing by cosmetics firms. Her interest in the issue begins when she finds Bruiser’s real mom in a lab, about to suffer a terrible fate. Suddenly discovering that the Boston law firm where she’s a star litigator is less interested in doing the “right thing” than in making money, Elle quits in a huff and secures a job in the office of fellow Harvard alumnus and Congresswoman Victoria Rudd (Sally Field). (This even as she’s planning her elaborate wedding to Emmett [Luke Wilson], now a Harvard law professor who exclaims to his class the news that Elle has arranged to marry him in Fenway Park. What a gal!)
In DC, Elle’s trajectory is much the same as Chris Rock’s in Head of State, Lisa Simpson’s in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington,” and her own in the first film. That is, she starts out an optimist, becomes disillusioned, then wins after all, owing to her pop cultural smarts and seeming direct connect with the Will of The People. Her idealistic confidence unstoppable (as she puts it, “I taught Bruiser how to shop online; I think I can handle Congress”), Elle repeats her Frank Capra-ish mantra, “An honest voice is louder than a crowd.” Quite: on her arrival at the Capitol, her pink suit and pillbox hat mark her stark contrast with the soberly stylish black suits that fill the steps. “My God,” observes one of her new colleagues, “It’s Capitol Barbie.”
As before, Elle has help in her struggle for justice from her faithful friends, manicurist Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) and screechy Delta Nu sisters Serena (Alanna Ubach) and Margot (Jessica Cauffiel), who drop everything when called and hightail it to DC to lobby stodgy Congresspeople to vote for “Bruiser’s Bill.” Emmett gets to spend most of his time offscreen, or on the other end of the occasional phone call, which is just as well. Otherwise, he might have to compete for sensitive male minutes with Elle’s doorman, Sid (Bob Newhart), whose 30 years servicing DC’s self-important have apparently granted him insight into the government’s turgid machinations (and who’s the latest white man to utter a Snoopish “Fo-shizzle, my izzle,” as if this joke wasn’t entirely tired the first time you heard it).
The film reprises other characters and plottish elements, tediously. Girl-in-need-of-an-Elle-makeover (Paulette’s primary function in the first film) is now mousy staffer Reena (Mary Lynn Rajskub, one of Barry’s sisters in Punch-Drunk Love), whom Elle inspires to boyfriended bliss. The snickety girl role (Selma Blair’s Vivian last time) is here filled by Congresswoman’s chief of staff, Grace (Regina King, in yet one more wholly thankless part). She has her own sort of experience in town, and though she was once idealistic and ambitious herself, now she’s into the same groove as everyone else — maintaining. That is, she cuts deals and corners, follows protocol and purposely humiliates Elle on her first day, all in order to ensure that she keeps her job.
Used to doing things “the Washington way,” Grace dismisses Elle’s foofy outfits and ignorance of committee ins and outs. Still, she fulfills her destiny as the only black character in this most fanciful Washington, coming around just in time to salvage Bruiser’s Bill. (King’s appearance on TRL only underlined the dreariness of the part: perky host Hilarie asked how on earth Regina, apparently such a “nice person,” was able to play the “villain.” The answer: “I’m an actor, and that’s what we do.”)
The first time around, Elle’s chirpy charm seemed fresh and campy; now it’s formula. Her vivacious efforts to get her colleagues to be nice to one another, her resistance to business as usual lead directly to an inevitable end: Congressional approval. As before, Elle is so broadly drawn that the jokes made at her expense — she’s “Britney,” she’s “so shiny,” she has “amazing lateral delts” — just slide right off. In the first film, what made Elle even remotely “special” were her light touch, self-awareness, and the silly surprise that her gaudy taste served vaguely progressive purposes.
Here those essentials are missing, or at best, severely depleted. LB2, directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (who worked wonders with the low-budget Kissing Jessica Stein) and scripted by Kate Kondell, is unwieldy and formulaic, as if everyone’s only goal was to replicate the first film as closely as possible. Bruiser’s non-surprise passes for the least repetitive moment. Where Elle goes through the same old motions, the giddiest sight gag is Bruiser’s appearance in leather and studs, cavorting with his butchy Rottweiler beau.