Stepping back into the bejeweled pink heels that staked her a spot on the A list, Reese Witherspoon hustles Bel Air Barbie Elle Woods from the courtrooms of Boston to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill in "Legally Blonde 2." Despite the sequel's somewhat forced charm, Witherspoon's irrepressible effervescence and the title's built-in audience should guarantee a radiant July 4 weekend opening.

Stepping back into the bejeweled pink heels that staked her a spot on the A list, Reese Witherspoon hustles Bel Air Barbie Elle Woods from the courtrooms of Boston to the corridors of power on Capitol Hill in “Legally Blonde 2.” Despite the sequel’s somewhat forced charm, Witherspoon’s irrepressible effervescence and the title’s built-in audience should guarantee a radiant July 4 weekend opening for MGM, but it likely will score below the original in long-range popularity polls.

While Witherspoon frequently has been superior to her material, the gap here is considerably wider and the gossamer thread of plausibility that held the first comedy together unravels under the fragile screenplay’s extremes of contrived silliness.

Tyro screenwriter Kate Kondell’s script seems pre-programmed to count on an audience besotted with Elle in all her adorable ditsiness. It fails to recognize the need to back her up with anything approaching the real resourcefulness it would take to get her through the door of a Washington power-broker, let alone address Congress. Witherspoon, as always, seems undaunted by this and it’s her disarming enthusiasm and terminal perkiness that make the comedy succeed to the degree it does.

Opening recaps the first film’s events via a scrapbook prepared by Elle’s Delta Nu sorority sisters Margot and Serena (Jessica Cauffiel, Alanna Ubach), who have banded together with her daffy manicurist chum Paulette (Jennifer Coolidge) to throw her a surprise shower before her impending nuptials to Harvard law professor Emmet (Luke Wilson).

Tossing to the wind any tenuous link to reality, the script then sends Elle — now a rising Boston lawyer — on a crusade to find the biological birth parents of her Chihuahua Bruiser, in order for them to be present at the wedding. A detective traces Bruiser’s mother to a lab where the dog is being used to test cosmetics by a major client of Elle’s law firm. Demanding her cronies take a stand on animal rights, Elle gets fired.

Hitching her cause to the coattails of seemingly sympathetic Congresswoman Victoria Rudd (Sally Field), Elle heads to Washington, her vibrant Jackie Kennedy-styled pastel wardrobe branding her an alien in a population clad in corporate blacks and grays. As she readies for presentation a piece of animal rights legislation dubbed Bruiser’s Bill, Elle encounters formidable opposition in Rudd’s whip-smart chief of staff Grace (Regina King) but finds a guardian angel in hotel doorman Sid Post (Bob Newhart).

Higher up the political ladder, Elle lucks into a sorority connection that softens Texas Congresswoman Libby Hauser (Dana Ivey) and finds an unexpected ally in conservative Southern Senator Stanford Marks (Bruce McGill) when his Rottweiler and Bruiser spark a same-sex romance. But when Rudd switches her position under pressure from a campaign investor, Elle calls for backup from Margot, Serena and Paulette. Eventually, Delta Nu alumnae from across the nation are mobilized to march on Washington.

The final act more or less falls to pieces. Even more so than with her courtroom success in the first pic, the script here just doesn’t have sufficient smarts to pull off Elle’s political triumph.

But Witherspoon again makes a valiant show of selling it. Her sheer pleasure in being an impeccably groomed, stylishly kitted-out woman determined to do something good for the world and protect the values behind “the land of the free gift with purchase” is undeniably infectious. The star makes this formulaic rehash of the far fresher original movie’s slender conceit more entertaining than it deserves to be.

While the supporting gallery lacks the sharply drawn characters of Victor Garber, Holland Taylor and especially Selma Blair that distinguished the earlier pic, Ivey and McGill have some amusing moments, and Newhart adds a warmer, gentler brand of humor. Field’s role is a poorly written plot stepping stone, but King molds a tough, ultimately right-minded woman, while Mary Lynn Rajskub is lovely as a Rudd staffer who gradually summons confidence.

Strongest asset among the holdovers is the priceless Coolidge, who puts such a dementedly original skew on her line readings as the dim-witted, big-hearted trailer-trash beautician that she enlivens every scene she’s in. Wilson is sidelined into a more marginal role.

Taking the reins from previous pic’s director Robert Luketic, “Kissing Jessica Stein” helmer Charles Herman-Wurmfeld maintains a breezy pace and a more fine-tuned sense of timing than his predecessor, albeit with inferior material. Use of a ’60s protest-pic aesthetic for the Deltas’ descent on Washington is a nice touch. Production values are tidy, with heavily accessorized Elle creating a candy-colored oasis within the businesslike Washington environments. Awash in pink, Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell’s costumes again strike a fun balance between the chic and the frivolous.

Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde

Production

An MGM release of a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures presentation of a Marc Platt production in association with Type A Films. Produced by Marc Platt, David Nicksay. Executive producer, Reese Witherspoon. Co-producers, Jennifer Simpson, Steve Traxler. Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld. Screenplay, Kate Kondell; story, Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake, Kondell, based on characters created by Amanda Brown.

Crew

Camera (color), Elliot Davis; editor, Peter Teschner; music, Rolfe Kent; music supervisor, Anita Camarata; production designer, Missy Stewart; art director, Mark Worthington; set decorator, K.C. Fox; costume designer, Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell; sound (DTS, Dolby Digital), Kim Ornitz; assistant director, George Parra; casting, Joseph Middleton. Reviewed at MGM screening room, New York, June 23, 2003. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Elle Woods - Reese Witherspoon Congresswoman Victoria Rudd - Sally Field Grace Rossiter - Regina King Paulette Parcelle - Jennifer Coolidge Stanford Marks - Bruce McGill Libby Hauser - Dana Ivey Reena Gulani - Mary Lynn Rajskub Margot - Jessica Cauffiel Serena - Alanna Ubach Timothy McGinn - J. Barton Sid Post - Bob Newhart Emmett Richmond - Luke Wilson
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more