It’s been five years since “Miss Congeniality” turned Sandra Bullock’s hard-boiled ugly duckling into a tiara-wearing swan. The follow-up, “Miss Congeniality 2,” arrives a good two years too late, missing much of its original cast as well as any real purpose. Yet for all this, the film does have one really great joke. Too bad it’s on whoever bought tickets.

Film Reviews
“Pink-feathered hats. Yes, my career has come down to this.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

The movie picks up shortly after the events of the first film, determined to repeat its predecessor’s formula. Reverting back to her slovenly ways after being crowned Miss Congeniality at the Miss United States pageant, FBI agent Gracie Hart (Bullock) has to endure yet another makeover at the hands of another witty stylist (this time played by “The Drew Carey Show” alum Diedrich Bader). She’s then summoned to duty when her friends, the new Miss United States and pageant promoter Stan Fields (William Shatner), are kidnapped by a pair of hooded thugs. Regina King (“Ray”) co-stars as her belligerent sidekick.

While the first movie unified its funny scenes around a mildly clever concept (“Pygmalion” at the pageant!), “Miss Congeniality 2” plays like a crude patchwork of sketch comedy sequences compiled to mimic the timing of the first movie’s trailer. Diving foolishly into a crowd? Check. Snorting? Check. Groin jokes and falling down aplenty? Oh yeah.

The film avoids becoming downright offensive for about half an hour, mostly because the actors carry their material so well. King is ferocious and funny; Bader is much sharper than his lame, rehashed material warrants; and if Shatner doesn’t get the laughs he should, it’s because audience members are too busy thinking about low-cost airfare instead of watching the movie.

Screenwriter Marc Lawrence (“Two Weeks Notice”) has a knack for tailoring absurd, quick-turning dialogue to Bullock’s deadpan delivery; she elicits consistent chuckles during the film’s first act. But charming as Bullock is, she’s on the wrong side of 40 for this role, and her close-ups don’t hide it. Eventually she won’t be able to compete in a niche market with actresses like Reese Witherspoon, and movies like “Miss Congeniality 2” do no favors for her fading career.

Bullock also loses much of her low-key appeal with the outlandish physical comedy she’s reduced to by the end. In an embarrassing, overlong scene placed uncomfortably mid-climax, Bullock and King perform a Tina Turner song at a drag club in Las Vegas. Agent Hart declares in earnest tones that the only way to find their perp is to win the karaoke contest and get backstage. Apparently flashing your badge and saying “FBI” just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.

What follows is a tedious rescue sequence in which Bullock outwits the entire FBI but can’t quite conquer her frilly showgirl outfit. All the loose ends are tied up with brevity if not conviction, and Shatner gets off the best line in the film (“There’s a cannon in my porthole!”) before the movie flounders to its predictable, but not unwelcome end.

During the course of the movie, Hart seems to gain confidence, composure and a deep sense of self-respect. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that when “Miss Congeniality 3” rolls around, she’ll be a neurotic and unkempt loser once again.

 

Rating: 1/2 out of 5 stars

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