In Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, Elle takes on the cause of animal rights in Washington, D.C., all for the love of her Chihuahua, Bruiser. Bruiser, it turns out, has his own agenda, as he comes out of the doggie closet, barking his love for a male Rottweiler owned by one particularly right-wing Republican congressman (Bruce McGill).

Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (Kissing Jessica Stein) has just the right sparkling tone for this cannily scripted fluff and, incidentally, manages to make his film pretty informative about the arcane ways of our political system. (Discharge petitions, anyone?) He was obviously, and luckily, working with a much larger budget than the first Blonde, which cost a mere $18 million. (Witherspoon's present salary alone is $15 million.) Elliot Davis' candy-colored cinematography and Missy Stewart's design prettily frame the farce and the cast grabs their comic opportunities with gusto. Both Elle and Bruiser sport a bewildering array of fab ensembles by Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell, which should satisfy all avid fashion victims in the audience.

Witherspoon, positively gleaming with star assurance, makes her indefatigably perky and optimistic Elle a classic screen comedy turn, fit to stand alongside such past mistresses of the art like Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, Goldie Hawn and Teri Garr. (At one point, Frank Capra's revered Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is even evoked.) Her description of the all-powerful sorority "Snap Cup" is particularly memorable. Sally Field, as Elle's Capitol Hill mentor/nemesis, makes the perfectly phony, villainous foil for her. Regina King displays her usual considerable dramatic chops, as a jealous chief of staff. Movie-boyfriend-for-our-time Luke Wilson is, again, cute but yawn-inducing, as he is concurrently in Alex & Emma and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Jackie Hoffman steals the film in her one scene as a pet therapist ("Your dogs are gay!"). The cherishable Jennifer Coolidge is, however, wasted as girlfriend Paulette, getting not enough screen time and most of the lamer lines. Alanna Ubach also returns as a galpal, but her presence is mostly a reminder of the film Freeway, still Witherspoon's greatest, least-known achievement, a real cult movie in which they both played jailbirds to a trashy fare-thee-well.