The Legally Blonde Series
Legally Blonde (January 2/02)
It's fairly surprising that Legally Blonde turns out to not only be funny, but intelligent, witty, and involving. It's surprising because one wouldn't expect a movie like this - that is to say, an outwardly dumb comedy - to be this consistently entertaining and enjoyable.
Reese Witherspoon stars as Elle, an apparently brainless airhead with but two things on her mind: Men and fashion. She seems to have a perfect life - she's incredibly popular among her circle of equally vacuous friends, she's got a rich and handsome boyfriend, and her dog is astoundingly cute. But everything changes when her boyfriend announces that he's going off to law school, sans Elle. Elle quickly comes to the realization that if only she were a fellow law student, perhaps her boyfriend would take her back. She puts together an audition tape for Harvard and winds up enrolled, thanks to an amazingly lenient admissions office. Now, she's finding out that maybe being a law student isn't as easy as she thought.
Buoyed by an effervescent performance by Witherspoon, Legally Blonde essentially glides from start to finish with virtually no lulls in the narrative. Despite having appeared in a bunch of movies since the early '90s, Witherspoon's never really had a chance to go center stage. Often relegated to the background, she became adept at stealing scenes from seasoned pros. Now, in her first mainstream starring role, she's broken out in a big way. Witherspoon brings so much life and vitality to this character that eventually it's easy enough to forget that's she's basically an idiot (which, it turns out, doesn't necessarily prevent a person from accomplishing big things - provided they're willing to work a heck of a lot harder than everyone else).
The movie zips along at a pace that's sorely lacking nowadays. This is just a fun movie to watch - the sort that rarely gets made any more. You don't really need to think too much; just enjoy the performances and the smarter-than-expected screenplay.
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (June 29/03)
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Legally Blonde 2 doesn't work. It's got all the ingredients that made the first one such a big hit, including appearances from most of the same cast members and a similarly likeable performance from Reese Witherspoon. Yet the movie never becomes even close to as engaging or even entertaining as the first one, most likely because it is so similar to the original; it never goes anywhere new or different, choosing instead to stick with the safe and familiar. The movie opens with Elle Woods (Witherspoon) now working at a big law firm - that is, until she voices her concerns over representing a company that tests make-up on animals and is summarily fired. Elle decides to head to Washington, where she plans to pass a bill into law that would declare animal testing illegal. Her first ally in town is Congresswoman Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), with whom Elle interned right out of law school and is now offering to help her get started. Perhaps Legally Blonde 2 would be more effective among viewers who haven't seen the original, as this sequel plays out in almost the same way. The most glaring example of this is Elle's treatment from Rudd's staff members, which mirrors her reception among fellow Harvard students in the first film. In both cases, Elle is treated rudely upon first arriving, but as she gets a chance to demonstrate her hidden intelligence, the bullies become her biggest supporters. It's impossible to watch the likes of Regina King and Mary Lynn Rajskub (playing Rudd's employees) mock Elle without rolling one's eyes skyward at the ridiculousness of the situation. Since we've already seen Elle go through this sort of thing, her harsh reception among these characters comes off as an act of desperation on the part of the screenwriter (newcomer Kate Kondell, replacing Karen Lutz and Kirsten Smith of the first one). The same is true of much of Legally Blonde 2, which never attempts to step out from behind the shadow of the original. The movie tries to replicate the fish-out-of-water feeling of the first one, but somehow the setting of Washington doesn't quite work. Try as the filmmakers might, the politics of getting a bill passed just isn't fodder for a light comedy. There are a lot of elements in the film that seem to have been included in an attempt to bring levity to the proceedings, including Bob Newhart's role as a savvy doorman, but the weight of the cumbersome script prevents any of them from taking hold. The only goofy subplot that works is the relationship between Elle's dog Bruiser and the Great Dane belonging to a Southern Senator (Bruce McGill's Stanford Marks) - the catch is, both canines are male. That was funny stuff, particularly Marks' growing acceptance of his pet's newfound sexual orientation, but sequences like that are more the exception rather than the rule. Witherspoon's effortless charm certainly keeps Legally Blonde 2 from becoming an all-out disaster, but her increased profile (not to mention paycheck) means less screen time for everyone else. Luke Wilson, reprising his role as Elle's boyfriend/fiancee, doesn't get to do much other than faithfully stand by his woman, while newcomers like Newhart and Field show potential but invariably wind up lost in the shuffle. Only Jennifer Coolidge, back as Elle's friend Paulette, manages to make any kind of an impact. With her oddball delivery and impeccable comedic timing, she's without a doubt the most enjoyable aspect of the film and it's easy enough to wish her role had been expanded this time around. It's not entirely unlikely that fans of the first Legally Blonde will enjoy this one as well, but really, there's no reason for this film to even exist. The movie doesn't stray from the formula that made the original a success, which gives the film a distinct feeling of deja vu.
Legally Blondes (June 20/09)
As ineffective as direct-to-video sequels come, Legally Blondes follows Annabelle (Camilla Rosso) and Isabelle (Rebecca Rosso) Woods - cousins to Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods - as they move from England to Los Angeles after their father (Christopher Cousins) is hired by a local university. The movie subsequently details Annabelle and Isabelle's efforts at ingratiating themselves among the denizens of their exclusive prep school, although it's not long before the identical twins find themselves on the bad side of a legendarily snobby fellow student (Brittany Curran's Tiffany). Legally Blondes has been infused with an exceedingly low-rent vibe that immediately sets it apart from its cinematic predecessors, as the movie's pervasive lack of style is exacerbated by the aggressive manner with which it's been geared towards the tween set (ie it's not difficult to envision the film fitting comfortably into the Disney Channel's almost unanimously unappealing roster of original fare). Director Savage Steve Holland - surely a long way from the John Cusack comedies with which he kicked off his career (1985's Better Off Dead... and 1986's One Crazy Summer) - proves consistently unable to elevate the hackneyed, hopelessly dumbed-down material, while screenwriters Chad Gomez Creasey and Dara Resnik Creasey's increasingly desperate attempts at filling screen time translates into a number of hopelessly unfunny comedic set pieces (including a gag lifted directly from the first movie, wherein Isabelle and Annabelle are tricked into dressing inappropriately for a fancy shindig). The Rosso siblings' personable yet bland work as the central characters essentially exemplifies everything that's wrong with Legally Blondes, as the movie primarily boasts the feel of a soulless, thoroughly irrelevant piece of work that's never quite able to justify its very existence.