Sandra Bullock……….Gracie Hart
Regina King……….Sam Fuller
Enrique Murciano……….Jeff Foreman
William Shatner……….Stan Fields
Abraham Benrubi……….Lou Steele
Nick Offerman……….Karl Steele
Eileen Brennan……….Carol Fields
Leslie Erin Grossman……….Pam
When one uses the term “guilty pleasure,” one can associate a lot with that term. For me it’s been watching Sandra Bullock act. While I never think of her in the same sort of light as a Hillary Swank or Nicole Kidman in terms of acting ability or put her in the same league as Monica Bellucci or Charlize Theron in terms of sex appeal, Sandra Bullock is a good actress who’s very attractive but is not overly special in either categories.
She’s just more of a solid utility infielder as opposed to being a superstar shortstop. While you may never get a superstar performance that wins Golden Globes and Academy Awards you can always count on her to give you a solid (if under-rated) performance every time out. She can be a leading actress and do it well but she’s never going to be in the same category as a Julia Roberts, for example. Her forte is comedy and as a comedic sidekick or as the lead in a slapstick-style comedy she’s always entertaining.
So when Miss Congeniality came out five years ago, it wasn’t surprising that it was a solid, enjoyable movie that did well at the box office. She may never produce the quality output of some actresses but when it comes to making movies that are fun to watch she leads the pack. While Gracie Hart was not her most ambitious role to date, it was arguably one of her best as it required a lot more out of her than just making wisecracks and looking cute. So it’s not surprising that she would reprise this role once more.
Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous follows Gracie and the consequences of her newfound celebrity. Following her appearance on the Miss United States pageant, Hart finds she is too recognizable to be a field agent for the FBI. The solution is to put her into the role of being the “new face” of the FBI and having to adapt to being in the public eye. From stints on talk shows to public appearances for a book, Gracie is transformed from being her klutzy, snorting awkward field agent into someone more glamorous and graceful by a homosexual stylist named Joel.
Diedrich Bader steps into the role played by Michael Caine in the first movie complete with two “beauty” assistants (Lusia Strus as Janine and Molly Gottlieb as Priscilla) and a new partner she has issues with in Sam Fuller (Regina King). Heather Burns reprises her role as Cheryl, the winner of the Miss United States pageant as well as the person in mortal danger. Stan Fields (William Shatner, the only other returnee from the first film) is kidnapped as well and Gracie is back undercover to try to save the day one more time.
It’s nearly the exact same formula the first movie had and at the same time it’s the reason why the movie isn’t funny or good. Trying to duplicate lightning in a bottle twice is hard when the exact same cast is brought back into the fold. Doing it without most of the principles is a recipe for disaster. And that is what this movie turns into.
The problem with all of this is that the changeover in cast from the first movie (King for Benjamin Bratt and Bader for Caine) greatly affects both the chemistry and comedic timing of the movie. Bader is a funny person but is too over the top in his flamboyance for the movie. It’s funny for spots, but for the majority of the movie it’s annoying at best and maddening at worst. A certain subtlety that Caine had in the original is missing in Bader’s performance and it shows greatly. There is a difference in taking out one of the foremost actors of his generation (Caine) and replacing him with someone from The Drew Carey Show. But this pales in comparison to King replacing Bratt.
King’s character is ill-suited and too over-the-top to even last one month as an FBI Agent, not to mention being a seasoned veteran that she is in the movie. Whereas Bratt was more of a straight man to Bullock’s one liners, King’s only real noteworthy contribution to the movie is a series of ever violent encounters with anyone and everyone she deems necessary. Once or twice was enough to establish that she’s overly violent, but every 10 minutes or so someone in the movie is on the wrong side of a beating intended for comic hilarity but instead comes off as forced and dull. King and Bullock don’t have the same sort of chemistry required for their “hate each other then like each other” style of working relationship onscreen to be able to work. They feel more like the female version of Paul Walker and Tyrese Gibson in 2 Fast 2 Furious than as a pair of strong, if mismatched, FBI agents.
Casting aside, the movie also fails in the most important category needed to be a comedy: it isn’t funny. The gags and jokes are obvious and easily predictable throughout, and yet when they do happen they still aren’t funny. While Bullock and the cast do try hard to be funny, it’s fairly obvious they’re trying to be funny. It’s forced and often falls flat. It’s the equivalent of telling a joke and immediately asking “Get It?” afterwards in order to illicit a greater response. It’s pathetic when used and it seems like the only thing missing from this movie is a wink to the camera and those two little words.