Fresh from fighting a valiant (but losing) battle to save her "Sweet Home Alabama," Reese Witherspoon arm-wrestles Congress -- and a washout of a script -- in "Legally Blonde 2," the initially promising but ultimately mediocre sequel to one of 2001's most unexpected pleasures.
The movie's a draw, but it's not Witherspoon's fault. Once again, her every line delivery and facial expression is so absolutely beguiling that you quickly forget her entire Elle Woods character is a bald-faced swipe from "Clueless." But not even the pre-chunkified Alicia Silverstone could equal Witherspoon's perky pep talks and heart-tugging moments of dejection; watching her, you really do believe that the world would be a better place if sorority manicure junkies made all the decisions for the rest of us.
This time around, Elle loses her up-and-coming status as a lawyer and starts a new career in the office of a U.S. representative (Sally Field). Her fellow wonks are predictably cool to Elle's hyperenthusiastic ways; one adversary, Grace (Regina King), tosses eye daggers like a blacker, blander version of Selma Blair in the first film. But no cold shoulder is going to stop Elle from pushing through the legislation she craves -- namely, a ban on animal testing. It's a personal issue for her, the evil eyedropper of science having fallen upon the long-lost mother of her pet Chihuahua, Bruiser.
The first half of the movie depicts Elle's arrival in D.C. with high-stepping style, establishing her friendship with a politically savvy doorman (the immortal Bob Newhart) and allowing for plenty of crowd-pleasing interplay with the frisky Bruiser. But after a leg-humping romantic subplot that's stolen lock, stock and collar from the first season of "South Park," the pup essentially disappears from the story, and almost everything else that's good about the movie goes with him. Newhart's role fizzles, and the script fails to make any substantive use of the returning Jennifer Coolidge as Elle's older gal-pal, Paulette. At least there's an almost-equal scarcity of Elle's disgustingly supportive fiancé, Emmett (Luke Wilson, who has now given the same performance in three different movies released within one 13-day period).
Sadly, Elle herself is also a casualty as the picture purges itself of character. Oh, she's in most of the scenes, but suddenly she's a dressed-up pawn to forces beyond her control. Though the last half of the film reiterates every people-power clich? a studio flick has ever made us suffer through, the point being argued is actually the opposite. It's not Elle's Barbie-doll initiative that gets things done in Blonde 2, but blackmail and old-school connections. That's probably an accurate snapshot of how the world works, but I'd hardly call it uplifting.