By Pete Vonder Haar | March 27, 2005

Like me, most of you were probably desperate for more information about the fate that befell FBI agent Gracie Hart following her thrilling success foiling a terrorist plot against the Miss United States Pageant. So many compelling storylines were left incomplete, and the overarching theme of security in our time so rich and complex, that the first film practically begged for a sequel.

Ha ha, no. In reality, the original “Miss Congeniality” was pretty self-contained, a harmless and predictable trifle where everything was neatly wrapped up at the end of its 109 minute running time. Who cared if it was essentially fluff? It was a fish-out-of-water story set in a beauty pageant, for crying out loud. You were expecting Herzog?

Sandra Bullock returns as Agent Hart for “Miss Congeniality 2,” the events of which take place a scant three weeks after those of the original, in spite of the five year real world time lapse. Hart wants to return to field work, but her celebrity status has some almost tragic consequences. Luckily, the FBI is looking for someone to be their new spokesperson. Apparently, the Bureau has had some bad publicity of late (seriously?), and Hart’s boss (Ernie Hudson) tells her she can either become the “New Face of the FBI” or jockey a desk. Hart, apparently eager to put her newfound beauty skills to use, opts for the former.

But that’s not all: Hart is also saddled with taking on feisty agent Sam Fuller (Regina King), who has some serious anger issues. In fact, “feisty” might be putting it mildly, as her early acts of violence almost make her look like she’s suffering from some sort of psychosis. Nevertheless, Fuller joins Hart for her publicity tour, where the two get along about like you’d expect, until Hart’s old friends Cheryl Frasier (the reigning Miss United States) and Stan Fields (her handler) are kidnapped in Las Vegas. Against the will of her superiors and the FBI guys in Sin City, she starts investigating the crime, desperate to rescue her friends before they’re killed when the deadline expires at the end of the week.

While you’re watching “Miss Congeniality 2” (assuming you weren’t able to make an excuse to get out of it, that is) it becomes painfully obvious that almost none of the principals want to be there. Bullock, evidently making her slapstick curtain call before moving on to those “darker projects” she talked about, makes the most effort, but lets be honest: at 40, she’s getting a little long in the tooth to be playing “spunky.” King gets the worst of it, as she’s forced to portray Hart’s angry, black (haven’t seen that combo in the movies before), butch sidekick. King spends the entire movie scowling, until the scene where she and Hart realize, hey, they’re not so different after all. Isn’t that super?

The FBI doesn’t come off much better itself. Almost every agent shown is either petty, clueless, philandering, or flat-out incompetent. Showing us a Las Vegas headquarters that looks like it could just as easily be NORAD doesn’t quite take the pain of a scene with the Special Agent in Charge (Treat Williams) making out with a fellow agent in a Bureau elevator away, or Hart’s liaison in Vegas (Enrique Murciano) flop-sweating his way through an undercover assignment. The Department of Homeland Security will not be amused.

Perhaps more depressing is the realization that Bullock’s box office cred has sunk to the point where she has to surround herself with TV actors in her films (at least “Miss Congeniality” has Michael Caine). There’s Diedrich Bader (“The Drew Carey Show”), Murciano (“Without a Trace”), Williams (“Everwood”), and Elisabeth Röhm (“Law and Order”). I’m not even mentioning Shatner because, let’s be honest, we don’t want Sandy to feel bad.

“Miss Congeniality 2” is an almost constant misfire. From its paper-thin plot to the utterly flat script, virtually nothing works. But at least they were able to work in two punches in the groin.

And one of those was Regis. That has to count triple, or something.

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