Cinema Signal:
Sandra Bullock
(Real-Life Reader Biography)

. "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous"

Sandra Bullock never fails to entertain. It's part of her DNA. For me, she can't do anything that compromises my urge to hug her. She is a warm presence, a celluloid sweetheart. She can, therefore, do little wrong. If there's anything in this Bullock-produced sequel that disturbs you, blame the writers and director John Pasquin.

If not a disaster, their latest take on the agent Gracie Hart mystique is a miscalculation. After a 5-year sequel-gestation period, you'd think they would get it right. While that's an adequate period to reflect on the style and values that made the original "Miss Congeniality" work so well, this has the feeling of a last minute story conference. You just can't depend on time factors when you never know when the green light will flash.

Agent Hart (Bullock) is coming off her win as runner-up in the Miss Congeniality contest and retains her trademark modesty about it. In fact, her insecurities are little improved, especially when she's dumped by the man she expected to be her new boyfriend. (This may have something to do with contractual problems or scheduling difficulties with beau Benjamin Bratt, but within the scripted scenario, her disappointment can only be dealt with by returning to work).

Before she gets a chance at bringing down the next bad guy that comes along to rile the feds, she's offered a chance at being the official spokesperson for the Bureau on talk shows and the like. "The face of the FBI," as McDonald (Ernie Hudson), her boss, puts it. Her newfound celebrity is too good to waste.

When she accepts the idea of role model over field work, she's assigned a "partner." In a demonstration of a female judo expert's superiority over male hostiles, agent Sam Fuller (Regina King) makes mincemeat out of a series of "opponents." Gracie is unimpressed and, when told she has just seen the abilities of her new bodyguard, she fights the idea and loses.

The competition between the women and the differences in their modes of operation is a good part of what follows. But, as a buddy act, it's no "Diehard." The big question is, can clashes become bonding? Though Gracie is unimpressed with Sam's speed and conditioning, she suffers greater physical abuse at her hands and head butts. This not only makes Sam as irritating as zero grade sandpaper, but it does the comedy no favor for Gracie to be weighted down by Darth Vader's sister.

After a brief reunion with her fellow ex-contestant and current Miss United States (Heather Burns), the queen and the pageant's promoter (William Shatner in for Michael Caine), are kidnapped by Karl and Lou Steele (Nick Offerman and Abraham Benrubi) a couple of miscreant idiots looking for a big ransom payoff. And there we have the limited essentials of the main plot which reaches for many a gag and occasionally connects. Regis Philbin and his wife are called in, as is some poor verbal schtick elevating the proceeding little above the level of "Beavis and Butthead."

The concept of Gracie being too recognizable to be an effective agent is called into play more successfully, such as in the bank sting when the FBI is revealed to a team of female robbers before they have a chance to commit the crime. Gracie's widespread fame is milked for all it's worth and more. It's used for considerable conflict with Las Vegas SAC (Senior Agency Commander), Collins (Treat Williams) who provides the stereotype of the FBI martinet and glory hound who brooks no competition from a Fed floozie.

One element that's not a compromise is the actual beauty of the star. No need for "best sides" or angles to show her in showgirl attire -- Bullock is fine as she really is. In the last act, in fact, through struggles and escapes, you wonder why her tight costume remains intact, trailing feather boa and all. Just as you might be concluding that it's to show off what they've got in a splendid Bullock body, the final frames reveal what it's really set up to do. I just won't tell you about it here, but I applaud a star who maintains her fine conditioning.

And her fine comedic timing. Bullock attempts to lift the screenplay into an area of some appeal. Her efforts, against an overproduced overload of unoriginality, bursts under the strain. But a valiant effort is one kind of recommendation; her inherent huggability is another. I'm a hugger.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Regina King and Sandra Bullock (right)
Not above a little female impersonating for a rescue operation
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