Sandra Bullock is a cutie. She’s also an odd size, by which I mean that her very American onscreen persona — pal/girlfriend, tomboy/glamour-puss, gawky outsider/good-time longneck swigger — requires special care to keep all the pieces in balance. Not surprisingly for such a hyphenate (I’d also add comedienne/tragedienne), Bullock’s movies are wildly hit-or-miss affairs, as apt to be tonally off (Murder by Numbers, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) as to be on the money (While You Were Sleeping and, of course, Speed).
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous isn’t exactly good — like Legally Blonde 2, it’s a more exaggerated, less buoyant sequel to what should have been a one-off comedy — but it’s an enjoyable (or at least educational) study of what Bullock and her favored writer-producer Marc Lawrence have rightly identified as the star’s best comedy assets. (The two worked together on Forces of Nature, the original, unexpectedly delightful Miss Congeniality, and the undervalued Two Weeks Notice, in which Bullock and her male equal in the romantic-comedy school of I-charm-alone, Hugh Grant, combusted on screen like a house on fire.)
Once again, Bullock plays FBI agent Gracie Hart, who appears to have kept the eyebrow grooming skills she previously acquired while going undercover as a beauty pageant contestant but ditched the rest of the upgrade; Gracie still snorts when she laughs, spills when she eats, and trips when she walks, and she’s back to her butch FBI wardrobe. She’s famous now, though — too much so for undercover work, but exactly famous enough to suit up in pretty skirts and relearn gracious manners to represent ”the face of the FBI” (with The Drew Carey Show‘s Diedrich Bader taking up the homosexual-stylist slot vacated by Michael Caine). And once again, Gracie fights to establish her own personal definition of femininity by throwing off the constrictions of ladylike behavior, this time in the course of rescuing a couple of old pageant pals (Heather Burns and hammy William Shatner reprising their Congeniality roles) who have been kidnapped in Las Vegas.
The Vegas setting results in some of the movie’s most tired capers (the draggiest of which is a performance in a drag club). The update devised for Bullock’s persona, though, as an actress who’s more acceptable to audiences as a chick who wants a man than as a chick who has one, is a sharp improvement. Gracie’s partner this time is a tough fellow lady-agent named Sam, with a big chip on her shoulder and a powerful pair of fists — she’s the opposite of a dull, kissable Benjamin Bratt-type hunk. Played by the redoubtable Regina King, Sam makes Gracie look girly in contrast. Paired together, the two women hint at the start of a beautiful comedy relationship, and new ways to let Bullock be Bullock.