Dumb Blonde

Someone, please get Reese Witherspoon to shut up

ABC-TV has penciled into its 2004 schedule a series based on the 2001 film Legally Blonde, for which a pilot has been shot starring someone named Jennifer Hall in the Reese Witherspoon role of Elle Woods, the pretty-dumb-in-pink sorority girl-turned-whip-smart attorney. MGM, which owns the franchise, smartly decided to shoot a two-hour pilot for the show: Should the show not get picked up, at least the studio will recoup its investment by airing it as a TV movie. This seems a bit redundant and raises the question: Was the initial film not itself a pilot, as thin and predictable and cloying as anything else airing at 8 p.m. on network television? Certainly its cheerless and cynical successor, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, would suggest as much, as it plays like a second episode of an ongoing series in which characters retrace familiar footsteps with far less interest and enthusiasm. They've been here and done that--and will do it again and again as long as the checks clear.

By the end of the first film, familiar to anyone who's turned on a movie channel during the past 24 hours, dingbat Elle had turned into a serious girl saying sober and sincere things; she had grown out of her pink togs--her baby clothes--and emerged into the adult world as a thoughtful woman capable of more than good, dumb luck. (Her hair even seemed a touch darker--a return to roots, as it were.) However you come down on Legally Blonde, as enjoyable escapist fluff or just one more Hollywood comedy cajoling fake laughs from its eager audience, it at least made sense--had a tangle-free narrative thread you could follow, characters you could like and cheer for and feel for, situations not entirely implausible and fairy-tale. And Elle, well, she was just swell as the naïf smarter than anyone else in the courtroom.

Either we were seriously misled by the final scene of Legally Blonde, or the makers of the sequel--including director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who also made the TV pilot and here uses those same skills, which involve making sure the camera's aimed at whomever's talking--have chosen to disregard Elle's evolution altogether, as is the wont of those who dutifully remake rather than thoughtfully revisit. After all, rare is the modern-day sequel that acknowledges its predecessor, save for asides intended to explain the absence of familiar faces. Legally Blonde 2 doesn't pick up where we left off; it leaves out what we picked up.

Dumb again: Reese Witherspoon dives back in the shallow end of the pool.
Dumb again: Reese Witherspoon dives back in the shallow end of the pool.

LB2, in which Elle goes to Washington to stop cosmetics testing on animals after she finds her "Chihuahua-American" Bruiser's mother in such a lab, finds Witherspoon just as vapid and vacant as she was at the beginning of the first film. There's nothing upstairs save for hair-care products. We only know she's a "brilliant legal mind" because others tell us; we're shown no scene that does her justice, offered no argument in her defense. She's far more obsessed with planning her pending marriage to Emmett (Luke Wilson, who has spent the summer slumming it on screen and sports one more embarrassed grin) and still hanging out with her sorority sisters Margot and Serena (Jessica Cauffiel and Alanna Ubach, respectively), who look as though they've become hookers between the two pictures.

To damn a picture such as this for being illogical and improbable is to curse the sky for being blue; what wouldbe the point? Still, there are myriad inconsistencies and plot holes as large as grand canyons--chief among them, how Elle goes from being an unemployed lawyer in one scene to a legislative aide to Sally Field's congresswoman in the very next; or why Field suddenly becomes a betraying bitch halfway through the picture. And there are scenes so ludicrous they will drop your jaw to the theater's sticky floor, including a dance number on the steps of the House of Representatives in which congressional interns clad as cheerleaders shake their pom-poms to "Atomic Dog."

To puzzle or fuss over them for even a second would be to give them more thought than writers Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake and Kate Kondell brought to the script meeting. Yet no one is more blameworthy than Witherspoon, who executive-produced the film through her production company, the apparently ironically named Type A Films--ironic, in that no one so fussy and controlling could allow such an amateurish wreck added to her credits. With her newfound clout and charm, she could make better films; instead, she strolls up to the audience standing in line at the ATM and demands we fork it over or else.

Legally Blonde 2 wants too badly to be seen as a girl-power Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, seen on a TV screen; it wants to portray Elle as a woman who fights for what she believes in and is capable of converting cynics into True Believers with her innocence and convictions. But a movie about empowerment finds Elle leaning on men to do her work (including Bob Newhart as a doorman who can't stand the strain of having to prop her up) and becomes so proselytizing the script reads like one long speech. In truth, Elle gives, by my count, threespeeches that say more or less the same thing: One person can say more than a crowd. She sets out to prove it, and if I can get Witherspoon's voice out of my head by July 7, I will consider it a minor miracle.

 
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