" Because it’s a great book doesn’t mean you have to like it "
— John Sealy, Stone Reader

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous is a totally unnecessary, mildly entertaining sequel, but at least it doesn’t paint entirely by the numbers.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Bullock lights up Vegas even brighter
Bullock lights up Vegas even brighter

This follow-up to the hit 2000 farce picks up with our heroine, Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock, Forces of Nature), facing heartbreak when her boyfriend, Agent Eric Matthews (an absent Benjamin Bratt), calls it quits on their relationship. In need of new pursuits, and with her etiquette and grace in need of a spritzer, Gracie accepts an assignment to become “The New Face of the FBI.”

As goodwill ambassador for the governmental body, Gracie sets off on a book tour to promote her new tome, From Misdemeanors to Miss Congeniality. Assigned as her bodyguard is a woman who puts the “miss” in misanthrope; Agent Sam Fuller (Regina King, Ray) simply is not one with whom to mess around.

These two dysfunctional agents are at each other’s throats from “hello” and their catfights are juicy enough to make Selina Kyle envious.

Intruding on their not-so-happy road show is the news that Miss United States (Cheryl Frasier, Two Weeks Notice) and pageant operator Stan Fields (William Shatner, Star Trek) have been kidnapped after a public appearance in Las Vegas and are now being held for ransom.

Hello, Dolly, Goodbye, Elvis

Such is the set up.

What follows is a sometimes-funny, sometimes-forced comedy of errors. The best jokes are the surprisingly high number of smart one-liners, but for the most part this comedy is drawn with very broad strokes.

Sure, it makes no sense that Gracie’s head gets stuck in the feathery headgear of a Vegas line dancer, but it makes for a striking visual seeing her pink and purple plumage, exposed through the moon roof of a Mini Cooper, adding an extra touch of color to the already color saturated decadent streets of nighttime Vegas.

The odds also would seem to be stacked against Gracie in tracking down a Dolly Parton look-alike in Vegas (Elvis is so yesterday; not a single Elvis managed to make it into this movie). But apparently Sin City isn’t all that big on the big-busted babe from the South. In all of Vegas, so the story goes, there’s only one Dolly Parton and one look-alike; Gracie manages to tackle ‘em both with her own estimable aplomb.

That’s the part of the storyline that devolves into a fairly painful men-in-drag lip-synching competition; high comedy meets low camp humor, all in the name of getting Gracie and Sam in the same room with their all-important information source.

Diedrich Bader, perhaps best known as Oswald on The Drew Carey Show, does a serviceable job as Gracie’s gay image/fashion consultant, but he’s one or two steps behind those TV Queer Eyes.

Love Town

Stories of the 40-year-old Bullock having at one point been attached to the lead role in the Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby, spur thoughts of her in more adventurous, dramatic territory. It’s a territory she should visit, since she doesn’t have the same cutesy charm she did in high-octane extravaganzas like Speed and The Net, or even the original Miss Congeniality.

Bullock has reportedly stated she’s no longer interested in the typical romantic comedy. At least to some degree, Miss Congeniality 2 fulfills that ambition. Aside from some lightweight romantic stylings among a couple supporting players, there is no romance in this comedy at all. Agent Mathews (the love interest played by Benjamin Bratt in the first movie), dumps Gracie over the phone in the early going, never to be seen or heard from again.

Here, the underlying theme is the competition between the high-tech full-blown FBI method versus Gracie’s low-tech, woman-on-the-streets approach. That concept in and of itself could have been exploited to greater effect, but John Pasquin, who directed the happy holiday hit The Santa Clause, does his best to keep things lively given the material on hand.

The end result is a mixed bag of ambitions from a Hollywood starlet still on the prowl for the next big thing and still working to keep her star shining as bright as the Vegas night.