Reese Witherspoon — what a great name for such a quirky, perky star — carries the fluffy weight of “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” on her shoulders, like an airhead Atlas.
As Elle Woods, “a simple small-town girl from Bel-Air,” Witherspoon seems a makeover of a makeover, but she’s always fresh. This hyper-ginchy doll, usually dressed in pink, is a fashion poodle with a cause. She comes to Washington as a squeaky lawyer determined to end the use of animals in cosmetic industry labs.
The mother of her Chihuahua, Bruiser (and not even Toto got so many close-ups in “The Wizard of Oz”), is stuck in lab hell. Going to work for Rep. Rudd (Sally Field), who proves to be a smiling barracuda, Elle hits D.C. like a pink flake from a chiffon storm. Not even Ronald Reagan could elicit such smiles with stuff like “Okey-dokey.”
A cute bod, a carbonated but not really dumb brain, and with the slicing force of her (of course) pinking shears, Elle is “Ms. Ditz Goes to Washington.” The movie includes a clip of Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” which may be too revealing of sources, since people who recall the 1939 Capra classic can’t help but think of how we’ve gone from passionate populism to girlish obsession with eyeliner and go-go booties.
Spongy plot filler
Witherspoon is terrific, though some gag bubbles refuse to float. The neatly used supporting cast, directed in TV-pitch style by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld (he’s also done a TV pilot of “Legally Blonde”), includes the great meatloaf of slutty cuteness Jennifer Coolidge, Luke Wilson as Elle’s supportive boyfriend, and as a doorman Bob Newhart, still a wizard with soft-shoe reactions.
The plot filler about congressional aides and crusading sorority sisters is spongy. But the main brake on dramatic pressure is the reliance on political maneuvers; this isn’t “The Best Man” or even, except vapidly, “The Best Girl.” Committee hearings and Elle’s “petition to discharge” campaign just don’t pack the heat of Stewart’s heartbreaking filibuster for Capra.
The scene of Elle going to the Lincoln Memorial for a soul boost from Abe, just as Stewart’s Smith did, is the silliest reduction of capital affairs since “Kisses for My President” (1964). Or at least since Monica Lewinsky — now if Witherspoon played her, we might have another classic.
David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.