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Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde (2003) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 July 2003
At one point in the awkwardly-titled "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," Luke Wilson watches part of Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" on TV, a little nod toward Capra's classic. Damned good thing this was included -- since "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde" is to a certain degree a remake of the older film, though this isn't acknowledged in the credits. (Note: there was a credited remake, too: "Billy Jack Goes to Washington.")

But the movie is such harmless fluff, and often reasonably funny, that there's really no harm done to Capra's reputation. (Unlike, say, Adam Sandler's "Mr. Deeds.") "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde" isn't quite as good as the first film, since the surprise that Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a relentlessly cheerful, focused-on-fashion little cutie from Bel Air actually is smart and shrewd -- without ever having to surrender her pink authority.

As the sequel begins, Elle is happily employed by a big Boston law firm, which seems to have found a way to provide her with a niche in which she can function. Until, that is, she learns that the mother of Bruiser, her Chihuahua (whom she carries about all the time), is at a testing lab, the subject of cosmetics experiments. She decides to try to use the legal system to free the test animals, but she's fired by her firm.

But if there ever was a never-say-die character in stylish high heels, it's Elle. She immediately puts the plans for her wedding to Emmett (the busy Luke Wilson) on hold, and takes off for Washington D.C. to be an aide to Congresswoman Rudd (Sally Field). Rudd is from the Boston area, and has long fought for animal rights and that sort of thing.

Elle has a hard time at first fitting into the very structured Washington life, no thanks to Grace (Regina King), Rudd's senior aide. However, Sid Post (Bob Newhart), the doorman at Elle's apartment building, takes the newcomer under his wing and helps get her straightened out. He's been close to the movers and shakers for years.

So despite obstacles, Elle keeps smiling and optimistically expecting the best from everyone. She drafts "Bruiser's Bill" (bound in pink), which would make the testing of cosmetics on animals illegal. There are plenty of obstacles, but by pluck, cheerfulness and unlikely connections she begins making headway. For example, Congresswoman Libby Hauser (national treasure Dana Ivy) may seem to have a tough, icy exterior, but when she learns that she and Elle are sorority sisters (in a beauty salon, they break into chants and songs), she comes over to Elle's side. Likewise, right-wing, southern Republican Stanford Marks (Bruce McGill), a poster boy for the NRA, realizes the value of Bruiser's Bill when his big beefy Rottweiller falls madly in love with tiny Bruiser. (They're both male, and there are some jokes about homosexual dogs. Some are funny, some aren't, interesting when you realize the director is gay.)
But eventually, Elle starts losing ground, and at first assumes that her efforts are being undercut by the jealous Grace, but eventually finds that someone else is responsible. Elle launches a new campaign using contacts in her sorority, as well as the help of beautician Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge, who's as good here as in the first film) and Serena (Alanna Ubach, also returning).

Most of the film is bright and bubbly, but the opening fifteen minutes and the last are fairly tedious and obvious. It doesn't hit its stride until Elle goes to Washington, and loses it again when she speaks before the combined House and Senate. These scenes are flat and unaffecting, probably because the story requires them, and because they're just too familiar.

The dialog is often very clever. Someone asks Elle "You know what I thought when I first saw you?" Elle speculatively responds, "God, that woman wears a lot of pink?" Elle realizes many people regard her as a joke, but she can deal with that without compromising her own interests. It is true that as she continues to work in Washington, she begins dressing more mundanely, and lets her hair go long and flat. Despite appearances, she's a realist.

Both this and the first movie are about empowerment, but not just about female empowerment -- they're about empowerment for anyone who is regarded as a bit strange by those around them. Elle not only makes it, she makes it on her own terms by being smart, prepared and willing to learn the ways of the new environment. Without giving up on fluff and pink.

Witherspoon, no surprise, is terrific as Elle Woods. Witherspoon is always terrific, even in reduced circumstances like her last film, "Sweet Home Alabama." She's a versatile, talented actress who, can change like a chameleon. Compare Elle to the character she played in "Election." Not only are their personalities vividly different, they don't seem to have the same shaped faces.

Most of the cast are the sort you expect to see in a lower-case A film like this, though some do stand out, like Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge. But the one making the strongest impression is Sally Field (and where has she been lately?); there was clearly room for her to kind of go up on Congresswoman Rudd, to make the character a figure of fun. Instead, she plays the role hard and straight, making a real woman out of a role that could have simply been a caricature.

It's a little odd to find Charles Herman-Wurmfield as the director of "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde," since his earlier film, "Kissing Jessica Stein," was such a sharp little indie film. Unfortunately, he seems to have been cured by working for MGM; there's next to nothing distinctive about his direction here. The movie is bright and colorful, and at times Herman-Wurmfield does keep the serious undertone of the film surprisingly visible, particularly in the character of Grace. But most of the film looks pretty much like a standard studio product.

A side note: what's with this idiotic title? Was MGM actually afraid that advertising, publicity and promotion wouldn't let audiences know that "Red, White and Blonde" was a sequel to "Legally Blonde"? Evidently not; that's the only conceivable reason for the lengthy, clumsy title of "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde."

It's safe to say that if you liked the first film, you'll like this one, though it does show signs of diminishing returns. Even if this is a hit, I hope someone -- maybe Witherspoon -- will have second thoughts about a third one.

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