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The Family Filmgoer

By Jane Horwitz
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page WE34


Sandra Bullock is an eminently likable star with a gift for comedy. But even she, reprising her role as FBI agent Gracie Hart, can't save this ill-conceived sequel, whose feeble plot literally drains it of all reason to exist. Teen audiences may still get a giggle out of watching Bullock cut up and match wits and fists with a tiny but fearsome fellow agent with "anger management issues" played by Regina King. "Miss Congeniality 2" shows head-banging, crotch-kicking fights and nonlethal gunplay. Some parents may object to the film's use of physical violence as a comical way of settling disputes. The movie also contains sexual innuendo; stereotyped gay humor; jokes about tampons, cramps and fake breasts; and a crude remark about using Tasers on genitals.

Though the original (and enjoyable) "Miss Congeniality" (also PG-13) came out in 2000, the new film pretends only a few weeks have passed since Gracie foiled a killer at the Miss United States pageant while posing as a contestant herself. Now she's too famous to work on stakeouts, and her unseen new boyfriend (played by Benjamin Bratt in the first film) breaks up with her in a weird, one-sided phone conversation. Her boss (Ernie Hudson) tells her to glam up again and tour the country as the "new face of the FBI" with Sam (King), a sullen female agent, as her bodyguard. They hate each other, of course. Then Miss United States (Heather Burns) and the pageant emcee Stan Fields (William Shatner) are kidnapped in Las Vegas, and Gracie and Sam go to work the case, against the wishes of the local agent in charge (Treat Williams). The Vegas locale gives them the chance to perform onstage at a drag club. Feathered, but not fabulous.

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GUESS WHO (PG-13, 103 minutes)

You want "Guess Who" to be better than it is -- smarter, edgier, funnier, deeper, more moving -- more of a real 2005 answer to the landmark 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," which it references in its title. Still, this pitch-it-down-the-middle-and-offend-no-one comedy about an African American girl bringing a white boyfriend home to meet her parents manages a few good laughs, if not guffaws. And whereas most Hollywood comedies run out of steam in the third act, "Guess Who" actually builds up steam as it goes. Teenagers who appreciate character-driven humor and like stars Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher won't be disappointed. It helps that Mac and Kutcher are surrounded by strong supporting actors bringing full-blooded characterizations to a flat script. There is a lot of relatively mild sexual innuendo, understated homophobic humor and occasional profanity. A rare but cruder joke involves the alleged differences between black and white men's penises. One dinner scene includes a litany of racial jokes and slurs. Characters also drink and get tipsy.

Successful banker Percy Jones (Mac) and his wife (Judith Scott) are about to celebrate their 25th anniversary at a party in their suburban New Jersey back yard. Their daughter Theresa (Zoe Saldana) brings her new boyfriend Simon (Kutcher) home and plans to announce their engagement at the party. She has failed to mention that he is white. Percy is dumbfounded and instantly decides he doesn't trust Simon, to the point of sharing the sofa bed with him just to keep Simon out of his daughter's room. Kutcher, while not a nuanced actor, has a nervous, klutzy quality that plays well off of Mac's slow, seething burn. Deeper racial issues surface briefly in pretty well-written exchanges.

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