Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous

It is a low moment in “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” not to mention one that panders shamelessly to the film’s target audience of women and gay men, when Sandra Bullock and Regina King dress as men-dressed-as-women to perform a Tina Turner number in a drag club. That any movie would steal pages from “Connie and Carla” is bewildering; that it would be a movie where the scene doesn’t even fit, where it is completely unnecessary to the plot, is downright sad.

But “Miss Congeniality 2” is a sad movie, a desperate, toothless comedy that, unable to do any real biting, threatens to gum its subjects to death instead. This is a movie where a maverick law-enforcement officer is actually referred to as a “loose cannon” (notwithstanding the innumerable comedy sketches and satiric articles that have mocked that trite old phrase), and where the very height of comedy is supposed to be Sandra Bullock dressed as an old Jewish lady to infiltrate a retirement home. (Posing as her son, a fellow agent asks the woman at the reception desk, “Do you have a euthanasia program?” That is literally the funniest thing that happens in the entire film.)

Bullock is back as Gracie Hart, who in the first film went undercover as a Miss United States contestant (do NOT call it the Miss America Pageant!) to stop a terrorist attack. Part two commences three weeks later, when Gracie is so famous from her appearance in the pageant and the ensuing news coverage that she is useless as a field agent. You can’t go undercover to stop a bank robbery when people are coming up to you and asking for your autograph.

So the FBI wants her to be the new “face” of the bureau, to do the talk-show circuit and be a walking public-relations department for the FBI. It is unclear what the FBI’s aim is with this, but Gracie takes to it immediately, becoming as shallow and Barbie-fied as the women she used to despise. Why, she doesn’t even snort when she laughs anymore!

After a few months of this — of being handled by her mincing personal stylist Joel (Diedrich Bader) and harassed by her masculine female bodyguard Sam Fuller (Regina King) — Gracie is distraught when the reigning Miss United States, Cheryl Frasier (Heather Burns), and pageant emcee Stan Fields (William Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas. The FBI sends Gracie to Vegas to act as — what? Bureau spokesperson? Press liaison? Once again, I am uncertain what her duties are. Mostly she barges around Vegas, vexing the local bureau chief (Treat Williams) and talking about an upcoming press conference she has to handle (which never does occur, by the way).

Gracie wants to work the case herself, of course, but the FBI won’t let her, but of course she works it on her own, and of course she and polar-opposite Sam eventually become friends despite their differences, save each other’s lives, yada yada yada. The movie, written by Marc Lawrence (also of “Forces of Nature,” “Miss Congeniality” and “Two Weeks Notice,” making this his fourth Bullock screenplay), sets up the Vegas stuff just to exploit all the obvious Vegas jokes — showgirls, gambling, the Mafia, female impersonators, etc. — and then doesn’t even do a good job executing those obvious jokes. The gags are limp and half-hearted, director John Pasquin (a Tim Allen veteran: “The Santa Clause,” “Jungle 2 Jungle” and “Joe Somebody”) not putting forth enough effort even to fail spectacularly.

I was no fan of the first “Miss Congeniality,” finding it average and unimaginative. The sequel is predictable, dumb and flaccid, too, but to a greater degree. It is everything its predecessor was, and less.

D+ (1 hr., 55 min.; PG-13, mild action violence, mild sexual innuendo, severe Bullock.)