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BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON

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That fine actor Jim Broadbent only has six or seven lines as the heroine’s father in this sequel to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but the first one he utters will probably resonate with any man dragooned by his wife or date into going to see it. “I wish I was dead,” Daddy Jones says. Of all the pointless, unnecessary follow-ups we’ve suffered through this year, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” takes the cake. It required fully four writers (including Helen Fielding, who wrote the novel on which it’s based) and six producers to come up with something that basically repeats the same romantic triangle from the first movie but, on those occasions when it does veer into new territory, goes completely off the comic rails.

When we last saw the dumpy, klutzy but purportedly lovable Bridget, played very broadly once again by Renee Zellweger, she’d finally linked up with the man of her dreams, staid but handsome human rights lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth, exhibiting superhuman patience both as a character and as an actor). Spending a couple of hours watching the two billing and cooing like happy lovebirds would hardly be very enjoyable, so the script quickly sabotages their romance. First, Bridget gets jealous of Mark’s relationship with a colleague, beautiful Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), who appears to have eyes for him, and then her middle-brow ways cause some embarrassment at a posh dinner he takes her to and they squabble; splitsville soon follows. Meanwhile that caddish charmer Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) is back, now the host of a travel show on the very TV channel where Bridget also works. Before long they’ve been coupled on a project, and he’s after her again.

All of this reeks of the old adage that if you’re going to do a sequel to a movie, just make the same movie over again–which is what it seems the screenwriters (or Fielding, if the script istrue to her book) decided to do this time. But though viewers seeking nothing more than a second helping of a single dish might be satisfied, the difficulties the writers dreamed up to send Bridget and Mark on their separate ways aren’t just unimaginative; they also make him look like a hopeless doormat (both for Bridget and for Rebecca, to whose attentions he seems oblivious) and her like a ditzy nitwit. Or course, that’s what’s supposed to make her endearing, an overweight, cheerfully sloppy Lucy Ricardo-like character with enough grit to cover her insecurities, but it’s overdone here. Bridget is subjected to such regular indignities–early on she sky-dives into a well-manured pigpen, and things don’t get much better for her afterward–that she becomes more pathetic than heroic, and she engages in so much stupid behavior that it grows ever harder to root for her. It also makes it very difficult to believe that Darcy would not only be interested in her but persist in his affections despite all the problems she causes (just call him a Ricky Ricardo on sedatives), and impossible to understand why Cleaver would lust after her a second time. And it undermines the best efforts of the two leads. Zellweger manages the accent well enough, and carries her extra poundage bravely, but her performance ultimately comes down to making faces that look as though she were sucking on a lemon and falling down a lot–not just into pigpens but off trees, down mountainsides (on skis) and everywhere else one can imagine. Firth, by contrast, is all stiff-upper-lip control and submerged emotion–so submerged, in fact, as to be nearly invisible. The only person to escape the Blighty blight is Grant, whose glib, somewhat prissy Daniel gets easy laughs with his well-tooled delivery. (His character’s interest in prostitutes has the added benefit of recalling an episode from the actor’s own past.) The supporting players don’t fare as well, with Broadbent looking properly embarrassed while Gemma Jones overdoes things as his wife and Barrett is given little to do–until the last reel–but look statuesque. Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson and James Callis reprise their roles as Bridget’s catty friends, and are as cartoonish as they were the first time around.

Still, what really takes the new “Bridget Jones” over that subtitled edge of reason are the additions the writers have made to the original mix. The resolution of the Rebecca subplot is extraordinarily lame; even a montage of flashbacks can’t disguise how utterly incredible it is (or how cheap it seems). But even that must take a back seat to a misguided Thailand episode for Bridget and Cleaver that includes not only an embarrassing bedroom scene but an even more dreadful sequence in which our heroine is committed to a Thai jail after she’s caught smuggling drugs out of the country (she’s been set up, of course). Whichever of the flock of writers thought that a lighthearted take on “Midnight Express” (or more properly “Brokedown Palace”), complete with a musical number, wouldn’t be a bad–even insulting–idea should have his union card revoked.

It remains to point out that “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” has been handsomely mounted, with a colorful production design by Gemma Jackson and elegant cinematography by Adrian Biddle. Unfortunately, the clumsy writing, compounded by director Beeban Kidron’s predilection for hammering home the comic points (and to resort to some terribly unsubtle animated tricks) and a background score that features some really jarring pop tunes), overwhelms the visual virtues. This picture will probably attract big crowds on the basis of its title alone, but as the British might say, it’s bloody awful.

THE BROWN BUNNY

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Vincent Gallo’s second film as auteur par excellence–he’s listed as producer, writer, director, director of photography and editor (who did the catering?)–might have been far worse in the two-hour plus version that was so savagely ridiculed when it premiered at Cannes last year. But “The Brown Bunny” is quite bad enough in the 92-minute recut that’s now being released. The technically ragged, gloomily brooding road movie is a reasonably coherent story of grief and remorse, probably clearer and more accessible than it was before. Unfortunately, the grief and remorse will be felt more by the audience than the characters.

As far as plot is concerned, there’s not much to “Bunny.” Bud Clay (Gallo), a haggard, depressed motorcyclist, loses a race on the east coast and then makes the cross-country drive back to California. There are a few episodes amid the endless traversal of highway, some of them person-to-person: Bud convinces a young woman clerking at a convenience store to come with him, then leaves while she packs for the trip; he stops briefly in Ohio to visit the addled parents of a childhood neighbor named Daisy, whom they haven’t heard from in a long while (and who, we’re told, kept the titular rabbit as a pet); he goes to a St. Louis pet store, where he examines some more rabbits; he pauses at a rest stop where he approaches a woman apparently even more despondent than he (Cheryl Tiegs) but, once again, departs before anything happens between them; he visits the Bonneville Salt Flats, where he takes his bike for an existential spin; he trolls along the streets of Las Vegas, toying with the idea of having sex with a prostitute but ultimately deciding against it. Finally, back in a California hotel, he’s visited by Daisy (Chloe Sevigny), obviously a drug addict, who performs oral sex on him in a prolonged and graphic scene. But a flashback showing how he and she last parted indicates that her appearance is not all that it seems, and explains why all the women he’s been attracted to during his trek have been named, like her, after flowers.

There are a few moments in “Brown Bunny” that come close to being interesting, if not completely effective. The Ohio conversation with Daisy’s mother, who seems to be suffering from mental impairment as well as a sadness as deep as Clay’s, and whose husband, sitting mutely nearby, appears in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, has a certain poignance, even though the pauses seem endless and the actual content never truly illuminates anything. The Bonneville Flats sequence has a certain luminous beauty. The brief time Bud spends with a loquacious Las Vegas streetwalker has a naturalness that’s appealing in light of the pretentiously dirgelike quality of what surrounds it. But the flickers of perception are few and very brief. Most of the picture is tediously repetitive and pointless. Even in this reduced form, the shots of Bud driving along are excruciatingly dull, whether they consist of the camera offering us his point of view through the smeared, filthy windshield or have it focused (none too well) on the side of his face, so that one has a fine opportunity to study the precise contours of his right ear. The constant concentration on Gallo, moreover, gives the picture a narcissistic air; his preening and posturing make one think that he’s not so much interested in communicating something to other people as in just watching himself in a cinematic mirror. And the hotel room scene between him and Sevigny, cruelly extended and uncomfortable to watch, certainly satisfies no one but him.

Certainly if it were thirty minutes longer, “The Brown Bunny” would be even harder to take. But in its present form it has very little interest other than as a picture that will go down in the history books as an independent equivalent of a studio disaster like “Heaven’s Gate,” an exercise in gross self-indulgence that demonstrates that one can make a catastrophe just as well on no money as with a bloated budget. All one needs is a large ego.