Dir: John Pasquin. US.2005. 112mins.

Released four years ago,the first Miss Congeniality proved to be an amiable comedy, filled withamusing, if predictable, pratfalls and a few out-loud laughs. The real draw wasSandra Bullock, whose gift for comedy makes almost any movie she is inwatchable - apart from, possibly, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous.

Poor reviews will not keepBullock fans away for the first couple of weekends (the sequel opens on Mar 24in the US and elsewhere), but tepid word-of-mouth means that, long-term, itwill be fortunate to outpace its predecessor's $212m-plus worldwide box office.Ancillary markets look more promising but may suffer from the reception to thefilm.

The first film found FBIagent Gracie Hart (Bullock) thwarting a terrorist plot to disrupt the MissUnited States pageant. Gracie's heroics made front-page news around the countrybut, as the opening of Miss Congeniality 2 makes clear, also destroyedher anonymity and made future undercover work impossible.

Rather than accept a boringdesk job, she reluctantly agrees to become the "public face of theFBI," a public relations job in which she tours the country and talks upthe work of the agency. But her enjoyment is regarded coolly by agent SamFuller (King), the FBI bodyguard assigned to accompany her.

Soon Gracie's good friend -and Miss US - Cheryl Frazier (Burns) is kidnapped, along with pageant MC StanFields (Shatner). Hart does not trust Collins (Williams), the local FBI guy,and is determines to save them herself - but she needs Sam.

The original film, directedby Donald Petrie, had many charming moments and a couple of uproarious ones,most of then courtesy of Bullock, whose girl-next-door cute looks,self-deprecating humour and ingratiating physical klutziness have helped hersurvive duds like Forces Of Nature and Speed 2: Cruise Control.Somehow, her likeability quotient has never faltered but it is stretched tobreaking point here.

You know a movie is introuble when not even Sandra Bullock can make a couple of scenes memorable.Granted, the script doesn't give her much to work with, but she has managed itbefore: here, she - along with the rest of the film - just seem tired.

Like the original, thesequel was written by Lawrence, but this time there is not quite the same ofhint of freshness. The comedy not only falls flat but is not even set upproperly, so the ostensible pay-off fizzles.

In one scene, for example,the front of Gracie's shirt suddenly takes on an odd shape. Apparently her"falsies" have slipped down around her waist - but nowhere beforethis point is there any mention that she has started to pad out her bra,meaning the scene fails to make sense or draw laughs.

The film-makers also feltobligated to explain why Eric, (Benjamin Bratt) Gracie's love interest frombefore, fails to return. But a phoney scene of her speaking into a telephone ashe breaks off their relationship fails to generate the necessary sparks.

None of the other actorsreally impresses, although Shatner turns in an unexpectedly sweet, vulnerableand funny performance (helped by the fact he isn't on screen very much) andKing does a mean turn as a Tina Turner look-a-like.

But Williams' character,like most of the others, is too thinly drawn as dialogue that might have lookedfunny on page fall flat on screen. Production values are adequate, although thetechno-beat music blares way too loud.

Prod cos: Castle Rock Ent, Village Roadshow Pics, Fortis FilmsProd
US dist:
Warner Bros
Int'l dist:
Warner Bros
Exec prods:
Bruce Berman, MaryMcLaglen
Sandra Bullock, MarcLawrence
Marc Lawrence
Peter Menzies Jr
Pro des:
Maher Ahmad
Garth Craven
Randy Edelman, John Van Tongeren
Main cast:
Sandra Bullock, Regina King, Enrique Murciano, WilliamShatner, Treat Williams, Ernie Hudson, Heather Burns