In Hollywood, sequels are a way of life. And so, inevitably, Sandra Bullock had to think of an aftermath for her tomboy FBI agent-turned-glam queen. But for a goofy comedy, it wasn't that easy.
The first "Miss Congeniality" came along four years ago with a very simple, if not farfetched, premise: "She's got a killer to catch … right after the swimsuit competition," as the movie poster put it. Bullock, as Special Agent Gracie Hart, made the glorious transformation from dowdy investigator to Miss New Jersey, thanks to Michael Caine, playing her coach in an amusing riff on "My Fair Lady."
A domestic box office gross of more than $106 million justified calls for a sequel. But what do you do with Gracie now that she's glamorous? The question left Bullock, one of the film's producers, scratching her head.
Now, finally, they've come up with an answer -- Gracie's career is all but destroyed by her 15 minutes of fame. She can't go undercover, because bystanders are always hounding her for autographs. Besides, she has come to enjoy life as a fashion icon. So the FBI turns her into a mascot. They keep her dolled up as the beautiful new face of crime-fighting. She's even hit the talk-show circuit with a ghostwritten memoir.
"Anyone who's caught on television or by the media doing anything somewhat heroic is going to be called on TV shows," said Bullock. "So we said, 'What would happen to someone whose job it is to be an undercover FBI agent?'"
In a strategy to kick the film off with a No. 1 showing at the weekend box office, Warner Bros. Pictures took the unusual step of opening "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" on Thursday, a day ahead of the typical Friday movie release.
The comedy faces off this weekend against one other new release, "Guess Who," starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher.
This time around, Bullock will have to make it without Caine as a mentor and without Benjamin Bratt, who played her FBI colleague and love interest. Her new partner in crime-fighting is Regina King, who got rave reviews last year in "Ray" as music legend Ray Charles' backup singer and long-suffering mistress.
"She and I didn't even audition together," Bullock said. "First, we sat down and had tea and by the end of that 45-minute conversation, we realized we had so much in common … and I thought, 'My God, I love being around this woman, a cool chick who isn't actressy.'"
On screen, however, Bullock and King trade verbal blows as they set out to catch the kidnappers who have abducted Miss United States and the beauty pageant's self-loving host, played by William Shatner in yet another of his trademark, over-the-top performances.
If Bullock's character was previously challenged by walking in high heels and modeling bathing suits, this time out, she and King face an even more daunting assignment -- disguising themselves as male transvestites at a Las Vegas talent show, much like Julie Andrews in "Victor/Victoria."
"I have a thing for drag queens," Bullock said, admitting that she pushed for the scene to be included in the new film.
At the film's premiere Wednesday, at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, the actress was surrounded on the red carpet by a bevy of female impersonators.
Of course, assuming a new sexual identity, however briefly, can be a bonding experience for two women, especially in such a comedy, and the chemistry between Bullock and King is the key to this film's success, says director John Pasquin.
"It's really a buddy movie between Sandy and Regina King, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it, because it was different enough," he said. "It wasn't romantic in the same way that the first movie was and there was enough about it, about two women sort of butting heads against each other and then learning to work together."
Of course, every film raises the possibility of a sequel or -- in this case -- a sequel of a sequel. Pasquin is more than happy to speculate where Agent Hart will be 20 years from now, in case there's ever a "Miss Congeniality 3."
"She'll still be working in the FBI," Pasquin said. And no matter how Grace Hart is, "I think there's a little girl in there and she wants to be an FBI agent."