MOVIE REVIEW 'Congeniality 2' is, well, less congenial

Good actors make a subpar script bearable.
Great comedies -- "Clueless," "Flirting With Disaster," "The Ref" -- are like rockets, with every element working together to achieve liftoff. The inconsistent "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" is more like a firecracker that spirals all over the place, exploding in some places and fizzling out in others.
Luckily, there is more exploding than fizzling. "Congeniality 2" begins with an intriguing idea: What would the fallout be for FBI agent Gracie Hart, who infiltrated the Miss United States pageant in "Congeniality 1" and is now too well-known to go undercover? I like that idea, and I like it that Sandra Bullock, who plays Gracie, is a star with the instincts of an ensemble player -- she'll do almost anything for a laugh, and she likes to surround herself with funny people.
Diedrich Bader is a hoot as a stylist who is even Carson Kressleyer than Carson Kressley. Regina King is likable and tart as an FBI agent who thinks Gracie is a Federal Barbie of Investigation. William Shatner pokes holes in his own windbag as a pageant honcho whose kidnapping gives Gracie a chance to de-Barbie herself and get back to investigating. Even an autograph hunter at a Vegas bar, a character I don't even think has a name, is briefly hilarious.
Missing Benjamin Bratt
Weirdly, casting also leads to some problems. Where's Benjamin Bratt, who played Gracie's squeeze in the first "Congeniality"? We're supposed to be invested in their relationship, which is hard to do since the producers were too cheap to hire him to show up in this film. Unfortunately, they did pay a salary to the wooden Elisabeth Rohm, who was recently canned from "Law & amp; Order" -- trust me, "Law & amp; Order's" loss is "Miss Congeniality 2's" loss, too. And, although I'm delighted to see Eileen Brennan under any circumstances, there's no way she could be William Shatner's mother unless time travel was involved.
These people have an easy rapport that helps get the movie over some humps. The clunky script, for instance, seems to have been assembled like so: Somebody came up with a list of five things they wanted to see Gracie do, then tried to come up with a "story" to connect the five things. It's as if I wrote five random paragraphs and then tried to connect them by starting each paragraph with the word "therefore."
Therefore, we have very little investment in the disjointed narrative. But the scenes that do work -- like a Tina Turner impersonation in which Bullock, as is her wont, sings backup for King -- if not fabulous are, at least, quite congenial.