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MISS CONGENIALITY II -- ARMED AND FABULOUS , USA , 2005 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for sex-related humor

What buoyed the wafer thin plot of MISS CONGENIALITY was Sandra Bullockís ability to mug and klutz her way through the role of an FBI tomboy ugly duckling turned reluctant swan. Enduring the indignities of waxing, lip liner, and high heels in pursuit of the bad guy was a story that offered no surprises, but was a pleasant enough diversion for fans of Bullock, and one that was tailor made to her comedic strengths. The sequel, MISS CONGENIALITY II: ARMED AND FABULOUS, has, alas, entirely missed the point of what made the original work. That Bullock is also a producer on this turkey only adds to the bemusement.


The premise has Grace Hart dumped by her sort-of boyfriend (Benjamin Bratt, who wisely declined to have even his voice appear as his character dumps Gracie over the phone) and picking up the pieces of her life by agreeing to become the face of the FBI. Itís a public relations gig spurred by the fact that Gracieís newfound celebrity renders her useless for undercover work and her reluctance to take on a desk job. With an unfunny mincing personal stylist (Diedrich Bader), would-be wisecracking make-up and hair people in tow, she wholeheartedly embraces celebrity and the makeover she fought so hard against in part one, you know, the premise that made if funny. Hers is a life of guest appearances to promote her ghost-written memoirs and dealing with the FBI-assigned bodyguard, Sam (a perfectly wasted Regina King), who has anger management issues.


Changing Gracie into the vapid FBI Barbie that she despised in the first film, plus not exploiting to the fullest the nascently interesting dynamic between the suddenly prissy Gracie and gung-ho Sam, who is everything that Gracie used to be, is called blowing it big time considering it offers the few laughs to be found in the two-hour running time. That and William Shatner returning as the preening host of the Miss United States pageant, this time not so much emceeing as being kidnapped along with Miss United States herself (Heather Burns). King makes Sam a tightly wound coil of seething anger bound up in a package that can barely contain it. She deadpans a distinct danger, and by the time it has set in that this film is going downhill at mach 12, itís hard not to root for her to actually snap Gracie in two. Especially after the girly chat with Miss United States that would make a 12-year-old at a slumber party cringe.


It all reeks not of contrivance, which would be bad enough, but of actual desperation. Hence King in a Tina Turner outfit and Bullock in a showgirl contrivance made mostly of ostrich plumes. Very tall ostrich plumes. As for the schmaltzy bonding ritual between our ladies, it comes out of nowhere and returns there quickly. Sniff carefully and you can almost get the scent of someone sweating profusely in the three areas most prone to that during stress. Thatís a helpful tidbit from a script that doesnít seem to have been written so much as thrown together around Bullockís uber-couture, her fearless embrace of pratfalls, and the filmís dozens of product placement agreements. Itís not just bad, itís embarrassing in a way that makes you want to avert your eyes and back slowly out of the theater.


There is much to be said in taking charge of oneís career, of creating films and opportunities that might not otherwise present themselves. But here Bullock has put together the sort of product that doesnít need to be cultivated so much as doused with the cinematic equivalent of an herbicide



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