Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde

I am always amazed at how sequels can betray the visions of their predecessors, even when the first films had little vision to begin with. Here is what I said about “Legally Blonde” upon its release in 2001:

“Some movies do what others have done before and are boring. Others, like this one, manage to seem fresh despite their inherent staleness. It’s all in how it’s played, the attitude employed, and the amount of self-awareness involved. I suspect the makers of ‘Legally Blonde’ have no illusions about the cleverness of their work. Silly little comedies need to be done without pretension, and this one couldn’t be less pretentious if it tried.”

Now we have “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde,” which flirts dangerously with pretension by introducing an animal-rights plot AND by referencing the great “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” as it sends its protagonist, California airhead-turned-lawyer Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), to D.C. in the hopes of saving her beloved chihuahua’s mother from an animal-testing facility.

Additionally, where the first film made staleness seem fresh, the sequel is stale all over again — largely because (like 95 percent of all sequels) it is merely a rehash of the first film, only without the benefit of novelty or creativity. It is a copy of a copy.

Elle becomes a congressional aide this time, bringing her perky sorority ways to Capitol Hill, much to the chagrin of her fusty fellow aides. The congresswoman they work for, Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), is an alum of the same dim-bulb sorority as Elle, hence the job and the support of Elle’s proposed animal-rights bill. (“Is bill-writing super-fun or what?!” Elle bubbles to her incredulous co-workers.)

Naturally, there is opposition to the bill, which would make it illegal for cosmetics companies to experiment on animals, but Elle is indefatigable. She wins the support of two key members of congress through her knowledge of dogs and hairstyles, and the doorman at her hotel (Bob Newhart) has additional tips due to his familiarity with the workings of the political machine. Nefarious double-dealing discourages her, but she is buoyed by her friends and fiance (Luke Wilson, in an extremely thankless role).

Kate Kondell’s script is so over-simplified, it actually has a character state the theme outright, addressing Elle: “None of us ever thought one person could make a difference until you came along.” Thanks for the yellow highlighter pen, movie.

He may have a point, though. For as mediocre and bland as the film is, Reese Witherspoon makes it tolerable. When all around her is banality, she is a zesty breath of fresh air, as light and lovable as any actress currently working.

Another amusing presence is Jennifer Coolidge as Elle’s 30-year-old friend Paulette. Coolidge’s delivery of even moderately funny one-liners is giggle-worthy. (“I can hear the ocean!” she declares as she holds a snow globe up to her ear.)

With a few entertaining bits and the unstoppable force of Reese Witherspoon’s charm, the film manages to pass by without causing any pain. But it is a weak comparison to its predecessor, a movie that truly knew how to wring laughs from a beautifully clueless character.

C (1 hr., 35 min.; PG-13, some mild profanity, some mild sexual innuendo.)