THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Every so often we get a sequel to a movie that absolutely did not – in any way, shape, or form – require a sequel. Miss Congeniality is the latest of these to spawn an unnecessary follow-up. Really, what more was there to tell with that story? Was there anybody out there clamoring for the further adventures of Gracie Hart, the FBI agent who went undercover in a beauty pageant? Did the filmmakers really think audiences would drop to their knees and give thanks for a Part 2? Probably not. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous is nothing more than a blatant attempt to grab some cash by exploiting the title of a popular movie. It is an exercise in cynicism.

Starting three weeks after the events of the original, the story finds Gracie (Sandra Bullock) unable to do undercover work anymore because people keep recognizing her. This is unlikely, as Gracie was only runner up in the Miss United States pageant and most of us wouldn’t even recognize the real Miss America if she fell over us. But I digress. Gracie’s supervisor (Ernie Hudson) approaches her with an alternative; the FBI director wants to make Gracie “the new face” of the agency. She’d basically be a glorified spokesperson, giving interviews and promoting the FBI. Gracie accepts the offer after being dumped by her boyfriend. (To show you how little I remembered about the first film, I had trouble remembering who Gracie’s love interest was. Then I suddenly remembered that it was Benjamin Bratt, who wisely opted out of the sequel.)

The first step in the process is hiring an image consultant (Diedrich Bader) to once again make Gracie over. And here’s an interesting approach to the character: he’s effeminate! Gee, I’ve never seen that in a movie before, have you? It must have taken seconds to come up with that concept! The story then flashes ahead two years. Gracie has written a best-selling book and is doing the talk show circuit to promote it. Her first appearance is with Regis Philbin and his wife Joy. (Kelly Ripa, like Benjamin Bratt, was obviously wise enough to take a pass on this one.) This leads to the only amusing scene in the whole film: watching Regis get punched in the groin.

It is made very clear that Gracie is supposed to stay out of field work, but then someone kidnaps Cheryl Frasier (Heather Burns), the winner of the Miss United States pageant, and Stan Fields (William Shatner), its obnoxious host. Upset that her old friends have been taken hostage, Gracie decides to investigate the matter herself. Eventually she enlists the help of Sam Fuller (Regina King), another FBI agent with a serious anger management problem, who is supposed to be working as Gracie’s bodyguard. The two women hate each other but, after a series of wacky situations, come to find mutual respect and…yadda yadda yadda.

The kidnappers, it turns out, plan to tie Cheryl and Stan up inside a pirate ship that sinks every night during the Treasure Island show in Las Vegas. Doesn’t that seem like an unnecessarily complicated plan? Why risk being seen by the dozens of actors and technicians you’d have to encounter just to get anywhere near the ship? And how do you smuggle two bound-and-gagged captives into a major Vegas show anyway? These have to be two of the dumbest criminals in the history of cinema. Interestingly, the ship’s interior is quite elaborate and detailed, even though no one ever sees it because the ship is made for the express purpose of sinking.

Once Gracie and Sam work their way to Las Vegas, they must perform onstage at a drag bar in order to gain crucial information. That’s right – women pretending to be men impersonating women. You know your movie is pathetic when you’re ripping off Connie and Carla. Apparently, the FBI also has a performance component in its training program, as Gracie and Sam (and the image consultant) are able to spontaneously perform a choreographed routine to a Tina Turner song upon command.

Do I even need to say any more about Miss Congeniality 2? Can you tell by now how dumb, idiotic, and completely ridiculous this film is? I kind of enjoyed the original. It wasn’t all that good a film, but it earned some laughs by spoofing the inanity of beauty pageants. What exactly is being spoofed this time? Nothing as far as I can tell. Although Bullock appears on the film’s poster in a showgirl outfit, the movie doesn’t really make fun of Sin City’s gaudy entertainment. There’s just nothing to work with here. This is a movie with absolutely no reason to exist.

Sandra Bullock can be an ingratiating actress, but when the material is week, her ditzy cheerfulness becomes annoying. Here she does pratfalls, makes goofy faces, and even offensively impersonates an elderly Jewish lady. None of it is cute or charming. The only – and I mean only - good thing in the picture is Regina King, a fine actress who somehow keeps her dignity in the middle of this unholy mess. (I would, however, recommend that she fire her agent and procure a new one who would keep her out of crap like this.) King plays it straight, unlike the other cast members who shamelessly ham it up for the camera. I’ve long thought that the actress deserved some kind of MVP award because she’s always reliable. Were it not for her presence, I would rate this film even lower than I already am.

As I said, the subtitle of the film is Armed and Fabulous. I can think of more appropriate words to use. Awful and Forgettable? Atrocious and Foul? Astonishingly Wretched and Friggin’ Unfunny? It doesn’t matter what you call it; I’ve never not laughed so hard.

( out of four)

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous is rated PG-13 for sex-related humor. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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