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.