THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


There’s practically a whole subgenre of movies in which the “ordinary citizen” goes to our nation’s capital and effects change simply by speaking the truth. Films as diverse as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dave, and this year’s Head of State have all fallen into this category. Now, so does Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde, the sequel to the 2001 sleeper hit. Like most of the other pictures before it, this one has an optimistic view of one person’s potential influence on politics. What makes it somewhat different is that it is aimed at a young – and predominantly female – audience. Although far from being a “message movie,” LB2 certainly wants to encourage young viewers to speak out on their beliefs.

Reese Witherspoon returns as Elle Woods, now a lawyer in Boston. As she plans her wedding to law professor Emmett Richmond (Luke Wilson), Elle decides she needs to locate the mother of her dog Bruiser so the animal can be invited. A private investigator locates Bruiser’s mother in the research laboratory of a cosmetics company. Horrified at the notion that the poor dog is being used to test make-up, Elle travels to Washington, DC to lobby for an end to animal testing.

She gets a job on the staff of U.S. Representative Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), who promises to support “Bruiser’s bill.” At first, the rest of the staff – including Rudd’s top aide (Regina King) – think the pink-wearing, fashion-conscious Elle is simply a bubble-brain. When she swings meetings with two influential politicians, they begin to think otherwise. Elle also has an ace in the hole: a hotel doorman (Bob Newhart) who’s seen enough political wrangling to offer her some good advice.

I recommended the original Legally Blonde for two simple reasons: it made me laugh, and Reese Witherspoon gave a wonderfully charismatic performance. Those are my exact same reasons for recommending the sequel as well. This is not an example of great filmmaking, but it is fun and full of clever jokes and scenarios. For instance, I love Elle’s first day in D.C., as she arrives in her pink suit and matching pillbox hat that clash with all the “serious” political types in dark suits. There are some sharp lines of dialogue scattered throughout, in addition to some mild comic irreverence toward politicians in general. The screenplay by Kate Kondell sees a lot of opportunities with the material and exploits many of them to good effect.

And then there’s Reese Witherspoon, who has done something very unexpected with her career. Early on, she seemed to take roles in edgier, artier films. More recently, she has positioned herself as America’s next sweetheart in the tradition of Sandra Bullock or Meg Ryan. With the one-two-three punch of Legally Blonde, Sweet Home Alabama, and now LB2, she has become the kind of actress who really lights up the screen with her sweet persona and crack comic timing. Witherspoon is more than an actress these days; she’s a life force. Although I hope she does a wide variety of movies in all different genres, I do like her very much in these kinds of roles. Her performance as Elle has to rank among the most energetic and endearing of recent years. It takes a special talent to command an audience’s affection in that way, and Witherspoon again proves she’s up to the task.

LB2 tries to show the machinations that go on behind the scenes in Washington, as well as the way important issues are frequently compromised because of those machinations. Of course, the way the movie presents this is watered down so younger audiences can understand it, but the story nevertheless takes the presentation seriously. Buried below the comedy is a point that is reiterated several times: one voice speaking the truth can be louder than a whole crowd. I really kind of admired the movie for encouraging viewers – especially young ones – to view themselves in these terms. Don’t get me wrong; this movie is certainly not going to cause a youthful uprising in activism. However, if an idea is placed in one or two young minds, that’s only cause for celebration.

Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde does what all good sequels should do: it sticks with the same formula, but adds fresh elements. I think it’s important to note the underlying joke that runs through both movies. There’s a real suggestion here that if you are cute, blonde, and perky, people will warm up to you more easily. There’s something delightfully subversive in that idea, and letting Elle Woods work some more of her blonde magic in the nation’s capital was a masterstroke that makes for some solid summer entertainment.

( out of four)

Legally Blonde 2: Red White and Blonde is rated PG-13 for some sex-related humor. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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