This follow-up to the surprise 2000 hit Miss Congeniality, which marks the return of star Sandra Bullock, writer Marc Lawrence and others, won't have as congenial a reception. Could it really have taken four years to come up with the story in which FBI agent Gracie Hart (Bullock), her newfound celebrity foiling her undercover activities, takes a PR gig with the Bureau that plops her in the midst of Vegas glitz and the kidnapping of her former pageant pals?

In Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, Hart's beau has dumped her and is literally out of the picture-a lucky call for Benjamin Bratt, who played her love interest in the original. After a bungled bank-robbery assignment, Gracie is designated "the face of the FBI," touring the country doing interviews and giving photo ops. Her makeover is orchestrated by personal stylist Joel (Diedrich Bader), the kind of gay man who bonds easily with women. But Hart's bodyguard is the butch and angry Sam Fuller (Regina King). As in all buddy movies (and the Hart/Fuller combo just might have been an attempt to establish a new buddy franchise), the duo get off to a rough start but develop a warm friendship as they enter the battle zone.

That unlikely zone is Vegas, where Hart is on a PR assignment. When she learns that Miss United States, Cheryl Frazier (Heather Burns), and pageant emcee Stan Fields (William Shatner) are being held for a $5 million ransom, she demands to get on the case. But FBI Vegas bureau chief Collins (Treat Williams, wasted in a routine role), won't have it. Thus, it's up to Hart and Fuller to foil junior agent Jeff (Enrique Murciano), whom Collins assigns to assure that Hart performs her PR chores. Along the way, Hart and Fuller go sleuthing in an old-age home and a drag club (even becoming part of the show-think Connie and Carla) and, of course, crack the case by pinpointing the motive for the kidnapping and discovering the unusual location where Hart's pals are held captive.

The film does have fun with its flashy Vegas locations (Treasure Island and other themed hotels) and the story moves at a perky pace. Also in the perky mode is Bullock, who delivers her character's spunk with believable insouciance. In its excruciating effort to please, Miss Congeniality 2 offers a sweet coda with a Big Message that is about as far from Vegas showiness as a scene can get.