Blonde ambition on Capitol Hill

Reese Witherspoon is pretty in pink. But is she a sturdy enough star to transform her 2001 hit "Legally Blonde" into a long-running franchise?

That's the question raised by "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde," and the answers aren't encouraging.

As in the first installment, Ms. Witherspoon plays Elle Woods, a lovable girly-girl with a heart of gold and a head of pure, unadulterated air. She enjoys her work in a Boston law firm, and she adores the fiancé she's about to marry.

The wedding will be a gala affair, and she wants everyone who's everyone to be there. That includes the long-lost mother of Bruiser, her beloved little doggie.

But when Elle succeeds in tracking down this elusive pooch, it turns out she's imprisoned in a testing facility for cosmetics.

Elle loves cosmetics, but she loves Chihuahuas more, and she's appalled at what goes on in the animal-testing lab. Quick as a wink she's off to Washington, determined to lobby for animal rights legislation - Bruiser's Bill - supported by a congresswoman who's an old sorority sister of hers.

Can the complexities of lawmaking faze a girl who faked her way into Harvard Law School just because her boyfriend was going there? Elle is bursting with confidence, but she has little knowledge of the byzantine byways she'll have to navigate.

While the first "Legally Blonde" was no great comedy, it provided a perky showcase for Witherspoon's considerable charms. Of course, you had to accept the highly improbable premise that a bubblebrain like Elle could ace Harvard Law by force of personality alone. But that proposition was downright logical compared with the unlikely notions embedded in the sequel, starting with the idea that even Elle would send a handwritten wedding invitation to a dog.

The satire of Congress is equally farfetched, suggesting that your worst enemy will start eating out of your hand the moment you flash the same sorority insignia. I'm all for sharp political satire - and Witherspoon starred in "Election," one of the best - but this stuff is too stale and stupid to swallow.

This is too bad because deep down, "Legally Blonde 2" is a perfectly funny idea - call it "Ms. Ditz Goes to Washington" - that's never allowed to take on real comic life. I laughed exactly once, when Elle walks into Congress for the first time and says, "It's just like C-SPAN, only I'm not bored!"

After that the Capitol Hill humor goes steadily downhill, all the more disappointing when a top-drawer talent like Bob Newhart - as a savvy doorman who's seen it all - is wasted in a skin-deep role. Ditto for Luke Wilson, although he's probably exhausted from appearing in no fewer than three movies in theaters right now.

You'll have a good time if you consider plenty of pink outfits enough to make a picture worthwhile. Otherwise spend the evening with C-SPAN. It's less boring.

Rated PG-13; contains mild sexual humor.

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