Ms. Witherspoon Goes To The Dogs

Reese Witherspoon had an ardent, if cultish, fan club before "Legally Blonde," the sleeper hit of summer '01. But after her turn as Elle Woods, Harvard Law School's most fashion-obsessed graduate, Witherspoon became practically a franchise unto herself. Elle was a heroine so amusingly irresistible that "Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde" seemed a foregone conclusion. This was a character we wanted more of.

So it gives me no pleasure at all to report that "LB2" is a stinker. Invoking the memory of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (ill-advisedly, as it turns out), the film sends Elle off to the Capitol in a new pink suit and a newfound froth of political fervor over animal rights. (Her search for her pet Chihuahua Bruiser's biological parents--huh?--had led her to a cosmetics factory where Bruiser's mom was being cruelly used as a guinea pig.) Naturally the entrenched Washington politicos have never seen the likes of this Bel Air expat, and they condescendingly brush her off as "Capitol Barbie." And naturally Elle wins them all over. But this time, Elle's improbable triumphs really are implausible--and way unfunny. Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and screenwriter Kate Kondell apparently assume that if they just show enough scenes of people rising to applaud Elle, we will, too.

As adroit and charming as Witherspoon is--and she gives it her all--she cannot rise above the embarrassingly broad, witless material. Your sympathies go out to her, and to such good actors as Dana Ivey and Bruce McGill, whose transformations from hard-a-- reactionaries into bleeding hearts are among the most cringe-inducing comic moments since "Alex and Emma." One low point: McGill's Alabama senator has a dog who falls in love with Bruiser, and he giddily shouts out his acceptance of their gay canine lifestyle from the podium. At the screening I attended, the absence of laughter was cacophonous.