[Screen It]


(2003) (Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A flighty but intelligent lawyer heads to Washington to push a bill through Congress that will ban animal research in the cosmetics industry.
Lawyer Elle Woods (REESE WITHERSPOON) is fresh out of Harvard Law School and is planning her upcoming nuptials to Professor Emmett Richmond (LUKE WILSON). A flighty but intelligent blonde, she wants to invite the mother of her dog, Bruiser, to the wedding, but doesn't know her whereabouts. A private investigator eventually leads Elle to an animal research lab where the pooch is being used for cosmetic testing.

Horrified at the discovery, Elle wants her law firm to do something about it, but since their client owns the lab and they don't take her seriously, she ends up being fired. With encouragement from Emmett and her dimwitted hairdresser friend, Paulette Parcelle (JENNIFER COOLIDGE), Elle decides to head to Washington, D.C. to change the law.

There, she gets a job as a legislative assistant to Congresswoman Rudd (SALLY FIELD) and meets her new co-workers including Chief of Staff Grace Rossiter (REGINA KING) as well as Reena Gulani (MARY LYNN RAJSKUB) and Timothy McGinn (J. BARTON), none of whom take her, her appearance or perky attitude seriously.

Nevertheless, she then sets out to convince Committee Chairwoman Libby Hauser (DANA IVEY) and conservative Member Stanford Marks (BRUCE McGILL) to join her cause. They're initially reluctant, but her charm, perseverance and creativity in breaking down their resistance eventually wins them over. They then join her in supporting "Bruiser's Bill" which will outlaw animal testing for cosmetic purposes.

Yet, when an unexpected obstacle threatens to derail the bill, Elle calls in Paulette and her friends Margot (JESSICA CAUFFIEL) and Serena (ALANNA UBACH) to help. With the aid of wise doorman Sid Post (BOB NEWHART), they set out to push their bill through Congress.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
Everyone knows that making movies is all about artifice and fakery where any film's "reality" stems from things that aren't necessarily real. That's not just limited to acting and special effects, but also sets and locales used to stand in for the real thing.

In such regards, the more difficult, expensive or prohibitive it is to shoot somewhere, the more likely a replica or substitute will be used. That's usually okay since those not familiar with the setting will likely be fooled. Yet, that only works up to a point as proven in "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde."

In it, the flighty but resourceful and determined protagonist - fresh from conquering the lock-inspired challenges facing her in the 2001 original - heads to Washington to get a law passed banning animal research in the cosmetics industry.

Rather than shooting in D.C. and particularly the U.S. Capitol that's off limits, director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld ("Kissing Jessica Stein") filmed it on sets as well as the State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. The problem is, none of it's even remotely similar to the real thing. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise, however, since the related political material is about as outlandish as the replica in which it's set.

Some may argue that the reality rules shouldn't apply - or at least not as stringently - for a comedy as compared to a more serious drama. I'd wholeheartedly agree with that if the comedy were funny and thus might distract one from the artifice. Unfortunately, and unless one is a huge fan of star Reese Witherspoon ("Sweet Home Alabama," "Election") or the original film, there's little to like about this effort, let alone find funny.

It's not really Witherspoon's fault. She still has the flighty but smart blonde oxymoron bit down pat. Instead, it's the script by Kate Kondell (making her debut) that's let everyone down. The first and most significant problem is that the subject matter is a tough sell. Although stand-up comedians get a ton of mileage from it and some movies have successfully mined it, making a funny movie about politics isn't as easy as it would seem.

Throw in a major plot point regarding animal research and the task becomes doubly more difficult. All of which might have been okay had the filmmakers successfully injected something funny in or around the material, but they don't.

While the first film wasn't any great piece of art and progressively faltered as it unfolded and turned into a broadly played and dumbed-down comedy, at least it had some novelty and tons of charm working in its favor.

Here, the charm is considerably forced, as you can see everyone involved struggling to recapture what the first film had going for it. To be specific, that stemmed from watching Elle succeed despite the obstacles, herself and her unorthodox ways of looking at things and solving problems. While that worked to varying degrees the first time around, it's decidedly less successful here.

The filmmakers try to supplement that with some new comedic material, namely that of two male dogs (one big, one small) being gay. That approach falls flat on its face, however. Sure, there will be people who find it funny (even uproariously so), but it's done in such a broad, cheap and backhanded way that the comedy is completely drained from the moments.

Joining Witherspoon from the first film is Jennifer Coolidge ("Best in Show," "American Pie") whose character's stupidity is more grating this time around, Luke Wilson ("Alex & Emma," "Old School") who's barely present this time around, and Jessica Cauffiel ("Valentine," "Urban Legends: Final Cut") and Alanna Ubach ("The Perfect You," "The Brady Bunch Movie") who fall into the same boat.

Sally Field ("Say It Isn't So," "Where the Heart Is") and Regina King ("Daddy Day Care," "Down to Earth") show up as obstacles in the way of Elle's goal, but are severely shortchanged by the script and its poor characterizations. Bruce McGill ("The Sum of All Fears," "Exit Wounds") as a conservative congressman (who owns one of the gays dogs - boy, that's funny), Dana Ivey ("Two Weeks Notice," "Orange County") as a former sorority sister turned Committee Chairwoman and Bob Newhart ("In & Out," TV's "The Bob Newhart Show") as the wise and all-knowing doorman are similarly left standing without much with which to work.

Unrealistic, forced and predictable (including the to-be-expected montages, magazine covers and "whatever happened to" taglines at the end), the film might be entertaining - to some degree - to extremely less discerning, diehard fans of the first picture. Otherwise, it's too dim even for the dumb blonde movie it's trying to be. "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde" rates as a just a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 26, 2003 / Posted July 2, 2003

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