- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Despite the dubious punning title and a merciless predilection for chuckleheaded farce, “Legally Blonde” emerged as a let’s-play-dumb crowd-pleaser two summers ago. It also enriched and compromised star Reese Witherspoon by giving her an extremely lucrative vested interest in a franchise role at age 25, arguably the last thing a clever and promising young actress should be preoccupied with in the formative stage of a career.

The drawbacks of impersonating a beamish cliche with too much potential for becoming a sacred cow were apparent in the first movie. The pretty-in-pink comic heroine called Elle Woods is a Southern California go-getter, something of a living Barbie Doll from Bel Air. She was introduced thriving on sorority life and camaraderie. Motivated by the loss of a treacherous boyfriend, she traveled East and besieged Harvard Law School, rising above snobbery and mere academic handicaps to become a sunny adornment to the stuffy old institution.

In the sequel, she targets Washington on the rebound, after losing a job with a legal firm in Boston on grounds that are ludicrous but perhaps obligatory, since they pretend to rationalize Elle as a belated convert to animal rights — at least if the animals are pooches being used in lab tests by a cosmetics company. A private detective hired to trace the parentage of Elle’s beloved Chihuahua, Bruiser, informs her that the mother is currently enslaved by such a lab.

The balance of the movie is, in effect, “Elle Goes to Washington,” and given the naivete of James Stewart’s famous Mr. Smith, it’s difficult to accuse the new movie of falsifying affinities. Elle Woods and Jefferson Smith would have made a perfect clueless match. Elle accepts an intern’s job with Congresswoman Victoria Rudd, a Harvard Law alum impersonated by Sally Field, who draws the principal treacherous role on this occasion. Evidently, Elle’s snowflaky virtue will always be tested by snakes in the grass. While professing sympathy with Elle’s pet issue, the congresswoman turns out to be a lamentable promise-breaker and deal-cutter, exactly the specimen Hollywood finds it convenient to scorn when taking up the causes of populist protagonists.

There’s a more promising element in the setup that the filmmakers shortchange: that Elle the newcomer would actually learn a thing or two from her employer’s experienced, skeptical chief of staff, Grace Rossiter, played by Regina King, the most intelligent and sympathetic presence in the movie. Grace is annoyed with Elle for a lot of sound reasons, both superficial and substantial, extending from office etiquette through political sophistication. In their moronic partiality, the filmmakers believe it’s imperative for Grace to reconcile herself with Elle’s blundering sincerity. If Miss Witherspoon were a more vigilant boss lady, she would have perceived the advantages of reversing the priorities — and leaving no doubt about the need for Elle to wise up in deference to Grace’s integrity.

The original L.A. rooting section of bosom buddies — Jennifer Coolidge, Jessica Cauffiel and Alanna Ubach — returns to support Elle’s crusade, augmented by legions of Delta Nu sorority sisters. Bob Newhart and Bruce McGill are the token paternal helpmates, a doorman and congressman, respectively. Luke Wilson waits in the wings as Elle’s beau, a Harvard law professor.

Ultimately, doggie rights are less urgent to the filmmakers than helping the closeted little pooch, Bruiser, come to terms with his sexual identity. No doubt this sidesplitting ID was confirmed by the same private eye who fingered Bruiser’s long-lost and cosmetics-endangered mama. Incidentally, “Legally Blonde” is about the last franchise in the world that should be manufacturing a grievance against the cosmetics industry. The hypocrisy of it all is mind-boggling.

The coy touches of “alternative” sexuality may have opened the door for director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who directed “Kissing Jessica Stein.” However, he could play around with a more flexible, improvisatory script on that debut project. “Legally Blonde 2” requires a virtual straitjacket of bogus adorability.


TITLE: “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde”

RATING: PG-13 (Fleeting sexual allusions and comic vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Screenplay by Kate Kondell. Cinematography by Elliot Davis. Production design by Missy Stewart. Costume design by Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell. Music by Rolfe Kent, with musical supervision by Anita Camarata

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes


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