It's not surprising to see Bullock revisit frumpy FBI field agent Gracie Hart, though it is surprising it took her this long. Hart remains the ideal fit for Bullock's blend of cover-girl beauty and tomboy charms. Like Hart, Bullock frequently puts up a tough veneer that hides a vulnerable core that's worth exploring.
Armed & Fabulous begins three weeks after Hart was named runner-up at the Miss United States pageant, an event she infiltrated to flush out a criminal mastermind. Her stint on the beauty contest's stage earns her a level of celebrity, which hinders her ability to blend while participating in routine undercover missions (a bank heist she's working goes sour in the film's inspired opening sequence).
So Hart accepts a new assignment as the recognizable face of the bureau. She works the publicity circuit, presides over press conferences, and eases her way back into action after two thugs kidnap the reigning Miss United States (Heather Burns) and the vainglorious pageant emcee (William Shatner) in a simple ransom plot.
Screenwriter Marc Lawrence has experience, having penned three other Bullock comedies including the first Miss. Oddly, he tosses several new characters into Hart's path, which take the focus away from Bullock when she appears eager to carry the load. This time out, Hart must contend with an apprehensive FBI rookie (Enrique Murciano), an exasperated field commander (Treat Williams), the aforementioned kidnappers, an effeminate stylist (Diedrich Bader) and, of course, a new partner (Regina King) who hates her guts.
Lawrence also transforms Hart from duckling to diva, completely shifting the film's focus and tone. The once-insecure agent buys into her own hype and becomes a shallow and self-centered FBI Barbie. King, a great foil on paper, takes the length of the picture to counteract with Bullock's newfound confrontational attitude. The actresses don't click instantaneously, and it's mainly because of Lawrence's conceived role reversal. Bullock was the hardened toughie in the first film, but must relinquish that task to King for the bulk of this sequel. By the time these talented performers find the right footing, we're careening toward the film's predictable ending, which is a shame.
Predictability, now that you mention it, unravels Miss 2. Despite a shift to Las Vegas, the ransom story still plays out as expected, and few of Hart's obstacles surprise us. Lawrence's script is hilarious in spots, and frequently surreal. Pop culture icons Shatner and Regis Philbin share a scene that ends with the king of daytime talk shouting, "Not the groin!" One gag steals blatantly from the first Miss, but works Dolly Parton into the mix (don't ask how). Bader routinely steals the film. Playing a younger version of Michael Caine's homosexual stylist from the first Miss, he gets different laughs from most of the same jokes.
The film's final strike, however, is the near-two hour runtime, which turns out to be far too long. After an endless stream of punches, push-up bras, and plot padding, there's little chance you'll leave the theater feeling too congenial.
The DVD adds a few deleted scenes.
Well, armed anyway.
Run time: 115 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 24th March 2005
Box Office USA: $48.4M
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock Entertainment, Village Roadshow Pictures, Fortis Films
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 123
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: John Pasquin
Screenwriter: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart, Regina King as Sam Fuller, Enrique Murciano as Jeff Foreman, William Shatner as Stan Fields, Eileen Brennan as Carol Fields, Ernie Hudson as FBI Asst. Director Harry McDonald, Elisabeth Röhm as Agent Janet McKaren, Nick Offerman as Karl Steele, Abraham Benrubi as Lou Steele, Treat Williams as FBI Asst. Director Walter Collins, Heather Burns as Cheryl Frasier, Diedrich Bader as Joel Meyers, Octavia Spencer as Octavia, Leslie Grossman as Pam