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“Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous”
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Sandra Bullock never learned her lesson from “Speed 2: Cruise Control.” That costly flop almost sank her burgeoning career. And now, she has taken her sleeper hit “Miss Congeniality” and temped fate by producing and starring in a sequel, minus the director and costars Michael Caine and Benjamin Bratt. The original comedy contained a fish out of water premise buoyed by Bullock’s infectious personality. To take that tale and duplicate it is a fool’s errand, one that would be tiresome and reveal the holes in the first film. “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Dangerous” takes that task and instead reinvents the foundation, giving Bullock a hilarious vehicle, one that again displays her girl-next-door appeal. Her stellar cast, particularly Regina King, enhance the film’s amusement.

A few weeks after achieving fame at the Miss United States contest, Gracie Hart (Bullock) discovers her undercover days are over. Incognito is not a word associated with national landmarks, and to the women of America, Gracie has become a celebrity. Rather than sit behind a desk pushing papers for a career, she chooses to be the FBI spokeswoman. A flamboyant fashion consultant (Diedrich Bader, “The Drew Carey Show”) glamorizes the still slovenly girl who snorts and babbles.

Ten months later, Gracie has become a media maven, slaughtering audiences on “Regis Live” and other magazine shows. Her ghostwritten book has become a best seller and now more than ever Gracie is the girl of the moment. Her ego has magnified even though she has become nothing more than the FBI equivalent of Kathie Lee Gifford. She carries her guns in a Fendi bag, wears oversized glasses and walks around with an entourage of hair and make-up. Gracie believes, or at least projects, that she is the most important member of the FBI team.

Gracie’s friend, Cheryl, the crowned Miss United States, (Heather Burns), has been kidnapped in Las Vegas along with the Miss United States Emcee (William Shatner). Since she’s not capable of going undercover, all Gracie can do is act as public relations. To the Vegas FBI head’s chagrin, Gracie refuses to wait around while her friend’s life is in jeopardy.

“Armed and Dangerous” thrives as a Bullock vehicle. The script allows her to play mousy, ostentatious, and also to kick booty. She can break your heart – when being dumped by her boyfriend of the first film she asks, “ Is it the sex? I can get a manual.” This beautiful girl is a master of portraying someone uncomfortable in her own skin despite all her assets.

The screenplay skips Gracie’s makeover on screen. We've seen it already in the first film and they didn't retread it. On the other hand, I found it hard to believe that in ten months she transformed from a fragile girl to La Streisand. Since the film begins essentially in 2000, why not give her five years of fame have turned Gracie into a monster?

As for the makeover, I appreciate that “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” has become a monumental hit, but somehow that has given Hollywood the right to pull out the gay stereotype again. We saw a metrosexual straight man in “Guess Who” and now Bader embodies the sissy that existed during Production Code days. There are feminine men in the world and their representation need never be vanquished, however the filmmakers didn’t bring a full-flushed character onto the screen, so instead we have another gay clown to mock.

Regina King is one of our strongest supporting actresses today (witness “Ray” and “Jerry Maguire”) and this silly film showcases all her strengths. Buffer than Tina Turner, whom she imitates here at a drag club in a rousing rendition of “Proud Mary”, King evolves into Bullock’s equal partner, both in the plot and on the film’s chemistry. She’s as responsible for the film’s gratification as Bullock.

“Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous” deserves to be on no one’s top ten list. It breaks no new barriers and it offers no new twists, but for two hours, two gifted physical comediennes strut around in glitzy costumes offering audiences a hearty laugh or two. Grade: B

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