Sandra Bullock's latest makeover as an FBI agent runs out of lip gloss well before she snatches a beauty queen from the jaws of death for the second time. Along the way, she's transformed into a glamorous media celebrity and spars with a fellow tomboy agent (Regina King).
Agent Gracie Hart's first chance to save Miss United States came in 2000's popular comedy Miss Congeniality, when she entered a pageant and foiled a crime. Affirming the opposite side of her personality, she was also named runner-up. This genial, hardly glittering sequel finishes in the middle of the pack, as Gracie's conflicting instincts -- tough cop versus pampered femme -- aren't packaged in the most flattering or funny way.
The comfy effort relies on fixtures such as a gayer-than-gay style consultant (Diedrich Bader) and a glory-hogging male boss. It indulges in stereotyping while claiming that women shouldn't be pigeonholed. Snorts will be triggered here and there, though not enough to justify its extended length.
Absent Bullock, it would be no contest at all. Few movie stars seem like they'd be as fun to hang out with, and none is better at delivering sarcastic one-liners. She has a zany side as well, yet isn't quite able to achieve blue-ribbon daffiness here. Having Gracie get jilted by her boyfriend over the telephone early on is draining; and sharp repartee penned by Mark Lawrence is spaced out over the film's flabby structure. Director John Pasquin's credits include the Tim Allen vehicles Joe Somebody and The Santa Clause, but Miss Congeniality 2 recalls his work on sitcoms like Growing Pains and Home Improvement: respectable, never fabulous.
Three weeks after salvaging the chaotic beauty pageant, Hart's colleagues rib her about her televised exploits and the notoriety she achieved interferes with her work in the field. In a snappy opening sequence, she's recognized by a fan during a bank sting. Angry and frustrated, she reluctantly agrees to become the new face of the FBI, glamming up to a degree that would strain the Bureau's budget and be the envy of any movie starlet. You watch hoping your tax dollars aren't really being spent on Louis Vuitton luggage and an entourage for the government's most lethal PR weapon. All Gracie has to do is keep track of her couture, sit still for manicures, and remember not to snort while on Regis Live or signing her memoir on book tours. She dives in, yet is unfulfilled.
Then her buddy Miss United States (Heather Burns) is kidnapped in Nevada along with the pageant's M.C. (William Shatner). The throwaway caper is merely an excuse to send Gracie to Las Vegas to butt heads with the chauvinistic agent-in-charge (Treat Williams). Together with a colleague who's having problems fitting in because of her rage -- and a wimpy local untouchable (Enrique Murciano) -- she starts sleuthing and solves the crime, dressed as a showgirl naturally. The beauty crown isn't tarnished and neither is the FBI.
You know the filmmakers are straining when they wedge in a barely amusing drag club scene (two butch women-posing-as-men-posing-as-women), trot out Dolly Parton for a slapstick cameo, and play outtakes over the end credits. No one should be faulted for trying to exploit Bullock's likeability, least of all Sandra. But today's audiences don't have to be convinced that a woman can be tough and glamorous at the same time. Like Gracie, Bullock falls between the madcap and glamour stools. Miss Congeniality 2 leaves you wanting to see the actress challenged in material that really bridges the two.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for violence and sex-related humor.)