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'Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde'

Star makes 'Blonde 2' a stylish sequel

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Hollywood has been making populist fables like "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" since Jimmy Stewart was a pup, filibustering the U.S. Senate in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" until corruption itself gives up and turns pure.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde 2." (Sam Emerson, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

"Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde"

Rating: PG-13 for some sex-related humor.

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Bob Newhart.

Director: Charles Herman-Wurfeld.

Critic's call:

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), possibly the only Harvard Law graduate with an undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising, watches "Mr. Smith" on TV as she faces a similar type of unscrupulousness in "Legally Blonde 2."

Like him, she's a political innocent thrilled to be in Washington. Like him, she runs headlong into members of Congress putting their self-interest ahead of their constituents.

But Jefferson Smith ends up going it alone, haranguing the Senate for nearly 24 hours until decency wins out. That would never do for Elle Woods, who wouldn't be caught dead in public with her clothes looking as if she just woke up in them. Besides, there's the Washington way and the Elle Woods way. Washington doesn't stand a chance.

In the first "Legally Blonde," Elle proved there was an intellect under that perfect coiffure by getting through Harvard Law. But the new movie starts as if she's harebrained again.

She and her boyfriend, Emmett (Luke Wilson), are planning their wedding. She wants to issue invitations to everyone important in her life, and that also includes the mother of her little dog, Bruiser the Chihuahua. To Elle's horror, she finds Bruiser's mother in a laboratory that conducts cosmetics testing on animals. Talk about mixed emotions!

Elle decides to fight against animal testing, but when her law firm won't take the case (the lab is a client), she accepts an offer to join the staff of U.S. Rep. Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), a fellow blonde and former acquaintance.

Rudd's staff -- the usual bunch of overworked, underpaid youths led by the dour Grace Rossiter (Regina King) -- takes one look at Elle and dubs her Capitol Barbie.

This is when the conflict emerges: idealism against the kind of cynicism born from the experience of tilting against the windmills of the system.

She wins the help and the friendship of Sid Post (Bob Newhart), the doorman at her apartment building, whose position allows him to know everything about Washington and the people in power. But she also uses her own specialized knowledge to win over important committee members -- bonding with them in hair salons and at dog spas, calling on her beautician pal Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) and her posse of sorority blondes to mobilize the forces.

Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld ("Kissing Jessica Stein") stages the visual gags well enough to draw audible laughter even from the more cynical reaches of the audience.

More important, he realizes his chief asset is his cute-as-a-button leading lady (who also happens to be the film's executive producer) and her color-coordinated wardrobes. Witherspoon occasionally pushes the limits of our tolerance for Elle Woods but understands the character enough to keep her from going off the shallow end (the whole idea is that she's deeper than she looks).

Screenwriter Kate Kondell clearly studied her "Mr. Smith" before writing "Legally Blonde 2" and even comes up with a dramatic face-off between Elle and her chief antagonist that captures in a nutshell just what the public dislikes so much about the system: Political survival and feathering one's nest has become more important than doing the right thing.

That ounce of weight keeps "Legally Blonde 2" from floating away in its Jimmy Choo boots. In real life, of course, Washington would cut out Elle's heart and stomp on it (just as Jefferson Smith would never have survived the trumped-up charges concocted against him by his enemies).

But this isn't real life. This is the movies, and as someone once said, they show us life not as it is but as we would like it to be. We'd like the system to work for us -- ideally without the need for Capitol Barbie.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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