Five years ago Sandra Bullock hit her stride with the fun comedy "Miss Congeniality," in which she played a tough, drab-looking but intrepid FBI agent who submits to an elaborate makeover to pose as a contestant after a beauty pageant receives a threat from one of the country's most crazed terrorists. Because it was a hit for Bullock, it's no wonder she would want to make a sequel, but "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," which takes up from where the first film left off, is as awful as the original was inspired. "Mixed Up and Tacky" would be a more appropriate subtitle. The only thing clever about this loser is Warner Bros.' decision to release it on a Thursday, thus avoiding higher-profile Friday reviews.
A dreadful script by Marc Lawrence, who co-produced this train wreck with Bullock, finds Bullock's Gracie Hart so famous for foiling that terrorist that she would put Martha Stewart in the shade, and therefore no longer effective as an undercover agent. She is now to become "the face of the FBI" and hit the talk-show circuit to promote her memoirs.
Armed with a personal stylist (Diedrich Bader) and his two assistants, Gracie has become a glib full-time glamour-girl celebrity whose sense of entitlement would leave Paris Hilton at the starting gate. Gracie has also been assigned a bodyguard, Sam (Regina King), a transferee from the FBI's Chicago headquarters with anger-management issues that are hazardous to anyone who comes near. To be sure Gracie and Sam will bond under fire, which involves a lot of palaver about the loneliness of strong women.
When Miss United States (Heather Burns) and the pageant's emcee (William Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas and held for a $5-million ransom, the bureau dispatches Gracie and her entourage to Sin City, where she is to do news conference duty.
Of course Gracie is going to disobey orders and play the crime-stopper because Burns' sweet-natured Cheryl is Hart's only real friend.
Setting up this premise proves laborious, but not as terrible as the silly slapstick shenanigans that follow, which include Gracie chasing and tackling someone she is convinced is a Dolly Parton look-alike somehow involved in the kidnapping but, as anyone could guess, it's the real Parton.
"Armed and Fabulous" swiftly lapses into travesty but without any of the sense of fun that travesty can sometimes offer. In other words, the film has a number of campy elements -- Bader's stylist, a drag show, fancy costumes, exuberantly vulgar Vegas settings -- but is not remotely funny enough to work as camp. John Pasquin directs as if he were directing traffic, but under the circumstances that may well be all he could be expected to have done.
Bullock has an ingrained likability that has served her well through the thick and thin of her career, but it's not nearly enough to save "Miss Congeniality 2." In fact, there is an atypical strained quality to her acting here that suggests a desperation on her part to make the movie work against all odds. Unfortunately, there's nothing congenial about it.
'Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sex-related humor
Times guidelines: The film also has some strong violence.
Sandra Bullock...Gracie Hart
Regina King...Sam Fuller
Enrique Murciano...Jeff Foreman
William Shatner...Stan Fields
A Warner Bros. Release of a Castle Rock Entertainment presentation in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Fortis Films production. Director John Pasquin. Producers Sandra Bullock, Marc Lawrence. Executive producers Mary McLaglen, John Kirby and Bruce Berman. Screenplay by Marc Lawrence; based on characters created by Lawrence & Katie Ford & Caryn Lucas. Cinematographer Peter Menzies. Editor Garth Craven. Music supervisor John Houlihan. Costumes Deena Appel. Production designer Maher Ahmad. Art directors Andrew Cahn, Greg Richman. Set decorator Leslie E. Rollins. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
In general release.