Sandra Bullock’s publicist no doubt endured fitful, flailing sleep after a story ran that quoted Bullock as saying she was no longer taking creampuff roles, just risky ones.
Too bad Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, which she’s promoting, is about as edgy as plastic balls in a fast-food playroom.
Bullock can’t be knocked for wanting to take risks, but it’s not as though her career needs a total overhaul like, say, Ashley Judd or Halle Berry. Bullock’s everywoman likability has helped save countless comedies from insufferable corniness in favor of entertaining cuteness.
Count in that bunch the sly sleeper Miss Congeniality, a film that worked with its high-concept and game cast (including Michael Caine, Benjamin Bratt and William Shatner) instead of against it.
But only a handful of players return, including Shatner, whose confused gazes draw more laughs than his clipped speech, in physical form. The movie drags Bratt’s absent character through the muck so much, it seems like a studio’s payback for paycheck negotiations that turned nasty.
The film opens as the newfound fame of FBI agent Gracie Hart (Bullock) blows her cover in a bank-robbery sting. No longer a faceless fed, Gracie is instead the headline-grabbing “Miss Congeniality,” so named for her operation at a beauty pageant to nab kidnappers.
Overexposure makes for bad undercover, so Gracie’s boss pitches to her the idea of being the new face of the FBI — in other words, prettying herself up for countless public appearances on daytime TV.
Gracie begrudgingly agrees and, over the ensuing 10-month makeover, covers her anger in makeup. (Yes, we’re expected to believe that nearly a year after Gracie’s feats, she’s still recognizable enough to land prime slots with Regis — albeit with his wife, Joy, filling in for Kelly.)
Problem is the new Gracie isn’t very nice, but her field-agent instincts bubble to the surface when her Miss USA-winning friend Cheryl (Heather Burns) and pageant host Stan (Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas. Along with partner Sam (Regina King), who has an anger streak and violent tendencies to match, Gracie goes off the publicity grid to save her buddies.
Unforced points on workplace glass ceilings show up early, showing Bullock’s effortless way around more than wiseacre one-liners and physical bits. But by the final reel, the movie’s message of doing your own thing makes Christina Aguilera’s lyrics to “Beautiful” seem subtle.
The mystery also is middling, its clues wrapped up in silly convolutions involving inter-agent sexual politics, embittered Vegas showmen, drag queens and a ridiculous finale at Treasure Island.
And although not as egregiously as last year’s Bridget Jones sequel, this movie commits the sin of blatant repetition of proven-funny bits. See Gracie nose-tackle Dolly Parton on the national news. (And why play “Dueling Banjos” when Dolly comes on? Why not “Islands in the Stream”?)
Bullock tries and draws several good laughs, but her heart doesn’t really seem in this particular brand of silliness. It’s as though she knows the comic opportunities of making her a cast-iron you-know-what just aren’t knocking so hard.
The best comic moments really come from King, who pulled a Linda Hamilton-lite to buff up for this sequel. Sam puts harder hits on the elderly for comic effect than Pedro Martinez did on Don Zimmer. But she adds as much punch of presence to the movie with her fiery, no-nonsense energy.
Marc Lawrence, a frequent creator of sitcom-style laughs for Bullock (Forces of Nature and Two Weeks Notice), has run out of ideas for his muse this time. It’s too bad if Armed and Fabulous is the last we see of Simple Sandra, as she’s capable of far better.