The quandary for all sequels is historically the same--how to resurrect the most popular elements from the previous picture while still giving audiences something fresh and original. With no literary sequel to the novel on which "Legally Blonde" was based, "Legally Blonde 2" charts that course from scratch by taking Witherspoon's peppy, perky, über-girly Bel Air-bred Elle Woods away from triumph at Harvard Law School and dropping her into an even stodgier, less flexible institution: the United States Congress.
As with "Legally Blonde," Elle's crusade begins selfishly and ends selflessly: In the process of planning her marriage to Emmett (Luke Wilson), she discovers that her Chihuahua Bruiser's long-lost mom is a captive lab subject at a cosmetics testing firm. Animals and cosmetics both being near and dear to Elle's heart, the sacrificing of the one for the other is unthinkable, so Elle heads to Washington where Congresswoman Victoria Rudd (Sally Field) has promised to help her push legislation outlawing animal testing. But the crafty machinations of Washington prove even more labyrinthine than the vagaries of criminal law, forcing Elle to once again dip into her Gucci bag of tricks to prevail.
With both a new director ("Kissing Jessica Stein's" Charles Herman-Wurmfeld) and a new screenwriter (Kate Kondell working from a story co-conceived by "Down With Love" scribes Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake) on board, it's impressive that "Legally Blonde 2" maintains such fluid continuity with the first film. The concept is obviously less fresh this time around--both films rely on Elle being true to her nature rather than changing it--but Witherspoon's charisma is so contagious that even the story's overtly preachy rough spots quickly fade. The key to both movies, of course, is the appealing dichotomy that Woods presents--an archetype that defies the stereotype, a girly-girl "smart" blonde ripped right from mind of Camille Paglia and brought to life like some kind of post-feminist Pygmalion. It's a part tailor-made for Witherspoon that should make her eventual ascension to Hollywood's power elite even more certain.
Arguably the most talented comedienne the movies have seen since Jean Harlow, Witherspoon proves, once and for all, that great stars not only transcend material, they transform it. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Jennifer Coolidge, Bruce McGill, Dana Ivey, Alanna Ubach, Bob Newhart and Luke Wilson. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Written by Kate Kondell. Produced by Marc Platt and David Nicksay. An MGM release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related humor. Running time: 95 min.