There was something rousing in the way Legally Blonde, an unassuming comedy made two years ago for $18 million, recouped its costs five times over and launched its talented star, Reese Witherspoon, onto Hollywood's power lists. It was a sleeper hit, a success story with as much pluck as its pretty-in-pink heroine. Its sequel, however, is overmarketed and undercooked. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde rehashes everything that was fun and fresh in its predecessor to bland effect.
Witherspoon's Elle Woods is now a rising star at a respected Boston law firm, anticipating both a promotion and a Fenway Park-set wedding to Harvard instructor Emmett (Luke Wilson, in the small and yawning role of dutiful fiancÃ). But when Elle loses her job after protesting one of the firm's clients, a makeup manufacturer that tests on animals, she puts her wedding plans on hold in order to take her crusade to Washington. Working for Congresswoman Rudd (Sally Field), Elle authors Bruiser's Bill (named for her beloved Chihuahua), which, if passed, will ban animal testing in the cosmetics industry. Just as Elle's plastic-doll prettiness and dim-bulb pep clashed at Harvard, she sticks out like a hot-pink thumb in D.C.'s sea of pinstripes, and Rep. Rudd's staff openly ridicules her...until, of course, the 11th hour, when they see the light and rally behind her.
The formula is lifted directly from the first film. Elle's progression in both can be easily plotted ' doubt, resolve, then world domination. What hasn't crossed over from the first film, however, is the playful mockery of its heroine. In the first, Witherspoon gamely suffered the brunt of every joke, then subverted them to her own cheeky benefit. Beneath the Barbie veneer, you could always see the wheels turning. They may be turning yet, but you'd have to plow through the thick glaze in the actress' eyes to get to them. Gone is Elle's flair for the outrÃ; in short, she's gone legit, with smart suits (albeit in pink), hair blow-dried straight and a wholesomeness that is no longer kooky but boring.
Having lost its greatest asset, the zippy charms of Witherspoon, Legally Blonde 2 begs for laughs from the supporting players, none of whom are very memorable. Midway through, there's a riotous set-piece involving Bruiser's gay love affair with a Great Dane, but not even a Chihuahua in leather bondage can zest up a franchise that has degraded from sleeper to snoozer.