I saw Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous for no good reason. I had checked out three movie theatres around Union Square, and the only thing starting within fifteen minutes was Miss (as the Fandango machines called it). I was actually pleasantly surprised that Miss was my sole choice. I had prepared myself for the indignities of Guess Who or The Ring Two, a couple of films that are making a profit only because they are better marketed than CNN's Pope Death Watch was-and even then only slightly. I was also happy because the movie had bombed the weekend before, so I knew I would be able to see it in a virtually empty theatre. Almost all the ticket holders at the multiplex were waiting for the 12:01 a.m. showing of Sin City-streams and streams of young men with chin piercings, carrying dog-eared copies of Astonishing X-Men. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
My compatriots at the 8:40 showing of Miss included five heterosexual couples on dates, five female couples who didn't appear to be romantically involved and two other lone men, one of whom set off my gaydar. I assume, though, that both guys were drawn to the image of Sandra Bullock in a Vegas showgirl costume designed to look like the love child of Big Bird and Liberace. (Ha! Liberace fathering a child! I kill me.) I wouldn't be surprised if the MBAs at Warner Brothers had precisely mapped the demographic as it showed up at the theatre. After all, the movie is an exercise in focus-grouped blandness, though I doubt anyone at WB HQ thought the ironic title would be used in an ironic unironic way in the headlines for the film's reviews. Because all Miss Congeniality 2 has going for it is congeniality.
The original Miss Congeniality was a likeable fish-out-of-water romp about a tough, clumsy, highly unfeminine FBI agent who must go undercover as a contestant at a beauty pageant. Sandra Bullock's pal Marc Lawrence wrote the movie for her, and she was perfect for it. Like Julia Roberts, she can be ballsy and sexy at the same time. But unlike Julia Roberts, she's a gifted physical comedienne. Bullock can take a pratfall as well as Carol Burnett or Cameron Diaz, and her beauty is minor-she's attractive but not threateningly breakable like Nicole Kidman, who, by the way, is about as funny as Wedgwood china. Miss 1 also had William Shatner making an ass of himself, Candice Bergen as (irony alert) an expert in femininity and Benjamin Bratt as the living embodiment of hot monkey love.
Miss 2 deals with the ramifications of the first movie: Gracie Hart (Bullock) has become too famous to work as a field agent, so the FBI uses her as the face of the Bureau. Suddenly-as in less than fifteen seconds-her undercover act becomes her persona, and she's all about lip gloss, highlights and Fendi. As she goes from talk shows to book signings, she's followed around by her stylist, Joel (Diedrich Bader), a mincing Voltron of the Queer Eye Fab Five. When Shatner's character, Stan Fields, is kidnapped along with the previous film's pageant winner, Cheryl (Heather Burns), Gracie is sent to Vegas to be the spokesmodel for the investigation. To keep its asset safe, the FBI assigns anger-management poster child Sam Fuller (Regina King, having her best year ever) as Gracie's bodyguard.
How many conflicts can we fit in one movie? Are you keeping score? Gracie and Sam give us white-black buddy-enemy nuttiness. Gracie's deep-down law enforcer can't handle her forced march in high heels. And Gracie's independence and arrogance can't handle the authority of Collins (Treat Williams), the head of the FBI's Las Vegas office. Then there are fights between minor FBI agents, the kidnappers, Tina Turner impersonators and random school children. Dolly Parton even wanders through the movie at one point. Actually, no, someone in a Dolly Parton wig runs through the Venetian casino and then is replaced by the actual Dolly when lines have to be read. (Oh, hey, shout-out to my boyfriend's dad, who ran security for Sandra Bullock when she was at the Venetian. Hi, Bob! See you at the wedding!)
I didn't laugh until Dolly Parton showed up. Dolly isn't funny, but in mistaking Dolly for a Dolly Parton imitator, Gracie pokes Dolly's breasts rather forcefully. It's more or less the same joke that Austin Powers used when he slurred, "She's a man, baby!" and tried to pull off an old woman's wig. But it wasn't a wig-it was her hair! And they're not fake breasts-they're Dolly's titties! Good times, good times.
Most of the humour in Miss 2 is that basic. An FBI agent quoting Dolce & Gabbana: funny. Drag: funny. Women running in heels: funny. A gay man running: funny. A little black woman with no sense of humour: funny. A pussy-whipped FBI agent: funny. Old Jewish ladies: funny. William Shatner: hilarious.
The casting of the film seems to come from the same school of thought: Obvious and Overdone Leads to Profit. So with the exception of Sandra Bullock and Regina King, everyone in the film is a minor TV actor. Bader was on The Drew Carey Show, Williams is on Everwood, and Enrique Murciano, an FBI agent, is on Without a Trace. They perform more or less capably, except Elisabeth Röhm, who, like Bratt before her, is a Law & Order alum. I always defended her when she was on TV. Her ADA Southerlyn was icy and strident, a vapid bitch. Now, after seeing her as a FBI agent in Miss, I know that Röhm is icy and strident, and she sucks.
My mother would describe Miss 2 as "diverting." In other words, when you're watching the movie, you're not thinking about anything else: I didn't rewrite any of the dialogue in my head, nor did I write my review in the theatre. I didn't even come up with one-line critical condemnations like "The most exciting part of Miss Congeniality 2 is figuring out who will get fired because of it." I was amused. And when you watch it on Cinemax at two in the morning in a few years, you'll be amused too.
Ted Gideonse has written about the arts (and other stuff) for Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Salon and the Advocate. He lives in Brooklyn and keeps a blog, the Gideonse Bible. Bring Me the Axe appears every other Friday.