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'Miss Congeniality' sequel desperately needs a makeover

''Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" closes with the standard outtake reel. Usually the compilation of bloopers, omitted improvisations, and flubs are a strategy to erase the memory of a bad movie. The laughless outtakes for ''Armed and Fabulous" helpfully remind us that it could have been worse.

Sandra Bullock reprises her role as Gracie Hart, the unpolished, New York-based FBI agent, who in the 2000 original went undercover in a beauty pageant to foil a terrorist plot. She appears to be having a good time in this sequel, which gets a lot of mileage from Bullock's enthusiasm, but she can't completely wake up the movie, either.

In the first movie, the pageant made Hart a national celebrity, and now she can no longer fight crime anonymously. The movie opens with Gracie and her FBI cohorts trying to stop a gang of felonious housewives from knocking off a bank, but the star-struck patrons give her away. Even the robbers know who she is.

Her superiors don't want Gracie's fame botching future jobs, but they also recognize that her boundless female fan base represents a public-relations opportunity. So they offer to send her around the country as the face of the FBI. Vulnerable from a recent breakup, she accepts. And after 10 months under the queer eye of a personal stylist, Joel (Diedrich Bader), Gracie is transformed (again) into a shiny, happy celebrity. (Gracie's original makeover guru, Michael Caine, is a no-show; we're informed that his character was hit by a bus.)

Where the first movie's comedy came from the friction between Gracie's butch demeanor and the girly-girl she was posing as, this sequel gives her the full Stepford, with Gracie saying several times, ''I'll be whoever you want me to." And so she becomes a diva. Gracie can now quote Louis Vuitton, uses Fendi luggage, and goes everywhere with Joel and his beauty retinue. She appears on ''Live! With Regis and Kelly," and, as part of a personal safety demonstration, even lets someone else kick Mr. Philbin's groin.

But when two of her friends -- the reigning Miss United States (Heather Burns) and the pageant's emcee (William Shatner)-- are kidnapped in Las Vegas, Gracie has to spring into action, though not as an agent but as the FBI's spokeswoman. Her boss (Ernie Hudson) goes so far as to assign an antagonistic fellow agent (Regina King) to be her bodyguard and keep her in line. (King is a pugnacious hoot, and in the film's one sophisticated touch, her character has the same name as the formidable director Sam Fuller.)

Gracie is expected to give press conferences about the kidnapping while the local division, headed by a rigid Treat Williams, does all the legwork. Naturally, she digs for clues, annoys Williams, and after a string of embarrassments is thrown off the case. But as with any movie about rogue agents and cops expulsion is the best thing for justice. Although with ''Armed and Fabulous," it's hardly ideal for original moviemaking.

The stars all seem to be enjoying themselves.In their few scenes, Burns and Shatner are as funny as they were in the original, and it's a pleasure watching Bullock and King fight because we know they'll grow to love each other (albeit platonically) by the end. But the film is assembly-line generic. There seems to be a commercial-break pause around every corner.

Indeed, the director, John Pasquin, has a resume loaded with decades of television shows (''Gimme a Break!," ''thirtysomething," ''George Lopez") and many Tim Allen flicks. He keeps things rolling, but that's about it, which makes him more a traffic cop than a director. And much of the plot is so predictable that the whole thing seems much longer than its 117 minutes.

The tedium compromises numerous sequences, particularly one in which Bullock and King go undercover at a female impersonation show, with King belting ''Proud Mary" as Tina Turner. Anyone who has seen the movie's ads knows it's coming. But, like too much of this movie, the number is so poorly shot, directed, and edited that it's more exciting in the TV spots. Nothing with so many people in drag should feel this draggy.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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