Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Gracie, it appears, has learned nothing from her previous 'girl power' outing.

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

Director: John Pasquin
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Diedrich Bader, William Shatner, Heather Burns
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-03-24

This latest version of ebony-and-ivory harmony features girls, of both genders. Supposedly set just three weeks after the beauty contest business of that surprise hit Miss Congeniality, Gracie Hart (Sandy Bullock) can no longer function as an anonymous field agent. She's a celebrity and she's glamorous, even though she's now dowded down again, wearing slacks, dank hair and flat shoes. Because her famous face attracts attention (even the villains in a bank robbery know who she is), she's in a spot: she can't go back to the life she loves and has no other life to live.

The problem is compounded when, within 10 minutes, she learns that her hot-and-heavy romance (also a result of the first film) is over. She learns this in a particularly cruel fashion: she's making microwave dinner for a date with Eric (played by Benjamin Bratt last time), but he calls to cancel, and to proclaim a need for space (and, remaining off screen and out of sight, an inability to return for another round). Gracie is devastated, alone with her Bud Light, reconfirmed in her pre-beauty pageant belief that she's unlovable, ugly, and worthless. Gracie, it appears, has learned nothing from her previous "girl power" outing.

The solution for her slump, according to the rules set up by the previous film, is to set her in motion, specifically as a Carol Merrill-ish spokesmodel for the agency, or, as she terms it, "F.B.I. Barbie." Once again: the frizzy hair is gone, along with the schlumpy walk and dark suits. She is remade by another man with a fabulous plan (replacing Michael Caine is Diedrich Bader, here playing queer-eye stylist Joel). He's attended by a couple of Casting 101 makeup girls who are unceremoniously ejected from the film after a couple of unnecessary appearances: their existence and disappearance are symptomatic of Miss Congeniality 2's general disorganization: no scene feels particularly important or even very interesting, all seem strung together, jokes in lieu of plot.

These jokes are set mainly in Vegas, where jokes -- especially of the visual variety -- are apparently everywhere. That means the film is filled with predictable images, from big neon, elaborate hair, and loud outfits, to gangsters and drag queens. While Gracie is in town promoting her ghostwritten how-to-be-a-beautiful-agent book (beauty tips), she learns that her best friend from the first movie, Miss United States (Heather Burns), along with traveling companion Stan Field (William Shatner), has been kidnapped. While the Vegas field office, headed by smug Collins (Treat Williams), would seem to have the situation under control, Gracie's amazing (and intermittent) intuition leads her to think she has insight into the case that no one else has, and so she takes up the case, despite explicit orders from main company man McDonald (Ernie Hudson) to the contrary.

The investigation and associated hijinks are decidedly underwhelming, but Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous has another card up its sleeve, the girl card. Gracie's romantic object this time is not a handsome young man but a handsome young woman, Sam Fuller (Regina King, fearless as ever). She's introduced beating the crap out of some poor F.B.I. schlub during a workout session; Gracie walks through, Sam bumps up against her, and the competition is on, with eager subsidiary agents looking on ("This is gonna be good!"). You see the connection and the reason for this instant mutual dislike: both women are "mannish" (they kick ass, resist wearing heels or mascara, take pride in their aggression) and both are tired of being asked to "change."

So the couple is set: where Gracie has self-esteem problems, Sam, it appears, is beset with "anger management" issues, which McDonald decides to resolve by sending her on the road with Gracie, as her bodyguard. This gig involves dealing with Gracie's annoying new persona (requests for lattes and concerns about her makeup), as well as making sure no fans get too close (she's fond of tackling innocent-seeming autograph seekers, because the joke is so funny). Sam is also relegated to demonstrating Gracie's favorite self-defense method (from the first film, again) on , her demeanor as understandably grim as Gracie's is plastically sunny. Sam and Gracie hate one another. And they will come to love one another. It's the buddy way.

En route to their mutual affection, Gracie is briefly distracted by the kidnapping case. Pursuing potential witnesses, she tackles Dolly Parton, goes undercover as a Jewish lady in an assisted living home (Bullock in a wig and a wheelchair: imagine the hilarity), and performs as a drag queen with feather headdress. Joel provides occasional comic gloss (called on to do the drag club makeup, he gushes, "I've been waiting for this moment my whole life!"), but even he's caught up by the film's unoriginality and general sluggishness. Miss Congeniality 2 proposes that girls don't need boys to achieve a sense of self-worth, a point made, you might recall, by the first film. And now that this part of the "lesson" is got right, can we please just stop?

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