March 28, 2005

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

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The infamous “plot device” is a beautiful thing in this day and age. It urges slow films along to mimic some sort of progression in plot, it motivates seemingly impossible movie finales and it even comes in all different shapes and sizes from a spontaneous yet fatal disease to a precariously unlocked back door. Miss Congeniality 2, however, manages to surpass all these trivial embodiments of the plot device and aims to go where no fluffy film has gone before. Here’s the situation: Benjamin Bratt a.k.a. Agent Eric Matthews is not in this movie. This minor casting predicament subsequently motivates the entire movie. Yeah, I didn’t’ think it was possible either.

Three weeks off the job from her beauty pageant infiltration gig, Agent Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock) is deemed too much of a celebrity to continue her current job as a field agent in the FBI. Instead, she is offered a chance to be the “new face” of the bureau. This basically entails reprising her Barbie doll image to generate good publicity for her employers, a seemingly empty endeavor that Gracie is driven to accept after being suddenly dumped by boyfriend and fellow agent Eric Mathews, a persona kept alive by the vague memory of Benjamin Bratt and the continuous referrals made by other characters. At the same time, she must sort out the kidnapping of Miss America, Cheryl Frasier (Heather Burns) and Stan Fields (William Shatner) in Las Vegas while getting used to her new bodyguard, Sam Fuller (Regina King).

Despite an initial feeling of complexity, the plot merely necessitates the need for elaborate costumes, even more elaborate headgear and frequent location changes. Alas, these fruitless attempts at flashiness do little to hide the theme of blandness that resonates throughout the whole movie. Thirty minutes out of the theater and you’ll wonder just like I did what Miss Congeniality 2 was actually about. Not conforming to conventional interpretations of beauty? The importance of friendship? That getting over Benjamin Bratt is hard to do?

Sandra Bullock is appealing in her Sandra Bullock-ish way, presenting audiences with a charmingly awkward yet over-exaggerated caricature in the form of Gracie Hart complete with a tough-as-nails attitude and an unrefined snort to her laugh. A strong female character such as Gracie would automatically generate the need for an equally strong character for Gracie to clash with. This role comes in the form of Sam Fuller, whose I-don’t-take-shit-from-anyone attitude makes her even more volatile than Hart. Regina King portrays Fuller as being characterized by a hard-hitting harshness, which results in the emergence of a female buddy cop movie when thrown in the mix with Bullock’s Gracie.

The irreconcilable nature of the Gracie-Sam relationship is dragged out too much by the film and by the fourth shouting match between the two leads, we’re really wondering why these two professional women can’t just get over themselves. Sure Sam is angry that she must protect the diva-esque person that Gracie has become due to her duties as the public face of the FBI, but does that really justify the need for repetitive stints of physical violence motivated entirely by a “I just hate you!” line of logic.

Lacking the breezy humor and slapstick comedy of the first film, Miss Congeniality 2 is merely a collection of amused smiles at best. In fact, I don’t actually think I laughed out loud once during the film’s entirety. When we saw her last, Gracie Hart had already beat the bad guys and gotten her happy ending. Things should have stayed just like that, case closed.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor