*½/**** Image B Sound A- Extras A-
starring Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Bob Newhart, Luke Wilson
screenplay by Kate Kondell
directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
by Walter Chaw Recognizing that there's nothing more patriotic than rampant materialism, cultural ignorance, fast fashion, a steadfast lack of imagination, and disturbing dog-love, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde is essentially a blow-by-blow remake of its predecessor with a different setting and more Chihuahua. It tackles animal rights and congressional corruption with the same seriousness as Versace vs. Gucci, hoping against hope that Reese Witherspoon's considerable charm will smooth over the clumsy grafts and inevitable tissue rejection of a film with speaking roles for Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Newhart, and Sally Field. Harvard Law is replaced by the Beltway Boys, factoids about perms are replaced by factoids about facials, and all of it boils down to the importance of sorority sisters--particularly ironic in a picture so horrified by the evils of intractable nepotism amongst insular societies.
Elle (Witherspoon) is a perky, be-pinked Harvard Law grad who, after getting sort of smart in the first film, is dumb all over again so that she might learn the same lessons she's already learned, thus relieving Herman-Wurmfeld and screenwriter Kate Kondell from the strain of coming up with a script about a woman who starts out smart and stays that way. What's interesting is the picture's invitation to identify not only with the scoffing elite, who recognize Elle's naïveté as shallow and offensive, but also with Elle and her secret superhero identity of "Smart Girl." Legally Blonde 2, at its heart, is a bully comeuppance fantasy that, coupled with Ang Lee's Hulk, provides a reassuringly complimentary revenge fantasy couplet this summer for the intellectually and physically inferior. Oddly enough, both films first mock the hero's inadequacy before revelling in said hero's triumph--self-hatred and simple hypocrisy as two paths towards the new millennium's spiritual emancipation.
Legally Blonde 2's jokes are facile and obvious, vacillating between sight gags, caste misunderstandings, and the implicit hilarity of homosexual Mexican dogs. A mid-film reference to Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington seeks to explain/forgive Elle's status of babe in the political woods, but the naïf mantle is particularly ill-fitting in the decades post-Watergate. I'm not so enchanted by the idea, in other words, of women who exploit their sexuality for power (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), nor the cruelest stereotypes of their gender (ditzy, materialistic, over-emotional) that in Elle's case besides, happen to mostly be true. Fascinatingly, with Field recast in the Claude Rains role (from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), and Newhart filling in for Jean Arthur, Legally Blonde 2 is a curious sort of gender-bender that at once mistakes a woman in a man's role for feminism, and provides straight-faced fodder for Witherspoon's own satirical Election.
The idea that Elle is this generation's Norma Rae (a suggestion made by the casting of Field as Elle's mentor in Washington) gains a disturbing heft when one considers that rather than offering a young woman with ideals and motivated by a genuine concern for the fate of her family, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde offers a young woman obsessed with her wardrobe and the well-being of her deadpan dog's family. The relative fecklessness of the message married with the cavalier parsing of gender politics results in a film cheerfully insulting to both women (ice queens or morons) and men (demagogues or milquetoasts--particularly Luke Wilson's trademark boyfriend character, which scores Wilson the title of 2003's honorary John C. Reilly). It's all reductive posturing here--all text and no subtext. Elle's brilliance-cum-idiocy, freed of the bathetic self-awareness of the great burlesque artists (Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis), leaves her as this idealization of the magnificent dimwit: tilting at intellectual windmills and looking fabulous. Originally published: July 2, 2003.
by Bill Chambers That Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde failed to live up to box office expectations is somehow not reassuring enough: this thing deserved Gigli's fate. MGM presents the film on disc in an inconsistent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer; at first I thought it was the change in aspect ratios that made this movie look less expensive than the cheaper Legally Blonde (Legally Blonde 2 cost $27M more than its predecessor), but Elliot Davis's cinematography proper is the culprit: his mock-glamour lighting is slick but inexpressive, and the numerous process shots are both obvious and hideous. Edge-enhancement intrudes on the DVD image, probably in an effort to bring out the detail in Reese Witherspoon's face that gets steamrolled by Davis's tendency to backlight her and forget to do the front. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine, however, and despite its overreliance on the forward soundstage, the music has real dimension. Actresses Jennifer Coolidge, Jennifer Cauffiel, and Alanna Ubach provide a feature-length commentary track that is literally incomprehensible, stray observations made in English excepted. As an aside: what the hell happened to Coolidge? I saw her episode of "Seinfeld" the other night (she played the (utterly normal) masseuse who refused to indulge Jerry in a rubdown), and it was like watching the scenes in The Exorcist before Linda Blair gets possessed.
A Special Edition, the Legally Blonde 2 platter also contains a making-of doc called "Blonde Ambition" (22 mins.) whose subjects must have been injected with truth serum just prior to interview. How else to explain director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld's declaration, "I love [Elle Woods], she is everything that I aspire to be in this world"? (That's the sort of admission with which they nabbed Charles Manson.) Why else would Reese own up to being the brains behind the film's insulting "Million Dog March" sequence, or bawling her eyes out the first time she met Sally Field? The bald Davis still has his stupid patch of blue hair from the I Am Sam DVD, if you're wondering. Seven deleted scenes--including the film's original opening (Elle introducing an "FDA-approved hair dye for pregnant women"), a Rocky homage (never seen one of those!), and a so-bad-it's-bad musical number for the "Snap Cup Song"--plus the video for "We Can" by LeAnn Rimes, a Legally Blonde 2 soundtrack spot, a "Welcome to Delta Nu" interactive quiz, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, and trailers for Legally Blonde 2, Legally Blonde, A Guy Thing, Agent Cody Banks, Uptown Girls (which starts automatically upon inserting the disc), and the seemingly racy upcoming videogame "The Sims 2" round out the shameful DVD. Originally published: October 7, 2003.
95 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; MGM