LEGALLY BLONDE 2: RED, WHITE & BLONDE directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, written by Kate Kondell, produced by David Nicksay and Marc Platt, with Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Bob Newhart and Luke Wilson. An MGM release. 102 minutes. Opens Wednesday (July 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 76. Rating: N Rating: N
Reese Witherspoon used to be the new Meg Ryan. But she's been slipping down to Brittany Murphy lately, and now she's sliding straight past Hilary Duff. Legally Blonde 2 is a listless, laugh-starved sequel. The loopy charm of the first film is gone, and its wit with it. All that's left is Witherspoon's over-perked grin dressed up in a cheap knockoff of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
This time Witherspoon's Elle Woods character takes a job in a Congresswoman's office (Sally Field) so she can free her little dog's mother from a cosmetics testing lab. It's one stale fight-the-system scenario after another, and Witherspoon tackles them all with a cheerleader's determination.
Something strange happened to Witherspoon between Election and the first Legally Blonde. The perky, pointy-chinned persona she'd crafted to poke fun at perk lost its edge. The satire was gone. She'd turned into Barbie.
Witherspoon is executive producer on this film, which means she's responsible for her own $15 million salary and the warmed-over assortment of talent assembled here. Luke Wilson plays exactly the same puppy boyfriend he plays in Charlie's Angels. (Did he win some CosmoGirl poll?) Bob Newhart and Sally Field are both called on to pimp their diminishing comic skills.
Directing duties go to Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who made Kissing Jessica Stein. Charming as that movie was, it was essentially a pilot for a safe lesbian sitcom. Not surprisingly, Herman-Wurmfeld was hired to direct a Legally Blonde sitcom pilot before getting the nod to take on this sequel.
Even Elliot Davis, the cinematographer responsible for the look of Steven Soderbergh's 90s films - King Of The Hill, The Underneath, Out Of Sight - is reduced to finding new flaxen tones for Witherspoon's hair.
Katharine Hepburn died last week. As Julia Roberts matures up the sphincter of her own stardom, who can swing a romantic comedy like the young Hepburn? Witherspoon has the breeding and the confidence, but not the gravitas and certainly not the scripts. Without sparkling words to say, she comes across like the product of a Japanese animation shop. She's just blond.