"My Girl 2" is pleasant, painless and, as sequels go, genuinely ambitious in its efforts to be a continuation rather than just a retread of its surprise-hit 1991 predecessor. That may not be enough for pic to broaden its appeal beyond its obvious target audience of preteen and young adolescent girls (and, of course, tag-along parents and boyfriends).

“My Girl 2″ is pleasant, painless and, as sequels go, genuinely ambitious in its efforts to be a continuation rather than just a retread of its surprise-hit 1991 predecessor. That may not be enough for pic to broaden its appeal beyond its obvious target audience of preteen and young adolescent girls (and, of course, tag-along parents and boyfriends). But while B.O. likely won’t be anywhere near the worldwide $ 120 million gross for “My Girl,” sequel should perform modestly well before doing even better on homevid and pay cable.

Screenwriter Janet Kovalcik (working from characters created by Laurice Elehwany) picks up the story two years after “My Girl,” in 1974. Opening scenes return to original pic’s setting, the fictitious town of Madison, Pa., with same lead actors reprising centralroles. Precocious Vada (Anna Chlumsky), now 13, still lives with her father, Harry (Dan Aykroyd), operator of the town’s funeral parlor. Harry has married g.f. and co-worker Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), who’s now very pregnant. Vada accepts the new domestic situation agreeably enough but still wonders about the mother she never knew, who died from childbirth complications.

After a leisurely paced but amiable start, “My Girl 2″ leaves Madison (and Aykroyd and Curtis) and moves to Los Angeles, where Vada wants to research her mother’s past for a school project. In L.A., she stays with Uncle Phil (Richard Masur, another “My Girl” alumnus), a mechanic who’s living with g.f.-boss Rose (Christine Ebersole) and her young teenage son, Nick (Austin O’Brien).

Nick reluctantly serves as her tour guide through L.A. as Vada searches for people who knew her mother in high school and collegeyears ago. Her investigation puts her in contact with a by-the-book cop (well played by Keone Young), a sickly poet (a witty turn by Aubrey Morris) and a self-absorbed film director (a nifty cameo bit by Richard Beymer).

Ultimately, Vada learns her mother was married, then divorced, long before meeting Harry. This leads to pic’s emotional payoff, as the ex-husband (John David Souther) shows Vada a home movie of her late mother (Angeline Ball of “The Commitments”).

“My Girl 2″ is often mildly amusing, and never less than engaging, but it lacks a strong narrative drive.

Director Howard Zieff, who helmed the original, places a great deal of stock in the charm of his players, and they rarely let him down. Zieff’s best films (“Hearts of the West,””Slither”) are more plot- than character-driven, so it’s not surprising to find here that Vada’s search is presented more as a methodical journey of self-discovery than a race against time.

Trouble is, the lack of a sense of urgency tends to work against the film, since there are stretches when the viewer is very aware of time passing. That impression is only reinforced by a subplot (Rose’s flirtation with a suave customer played by Gerrit Graham) that plays like so much padding.

Still, even without the presence of Macaulay Culkin, whose character was killed off in the original pic, “My Girl 2″ has enough going for it to entertain and satisfy. In the lead role, Chlumsky has developed into an even more appealing young actress for the sequel. She establishes a nicely persuasive rapport with co-star O’Brien (“Last Action Hero”), who probably will set many fair hearts aflutter in shopping-mall multiplexes everywhere.

Despite their top billing, Aykroyd and Curtis are around for less than a third of the film. But they make their moments count, as do Masur and Ebersole. Souther offers an affecting mix of wistful regret and resigned serenity in his small role.

Cinematographer Paul Elliott, costumer Shelley Komarov and production designer Charles Rosen do a bang-up job of evoking early 1970s period flavor without letting it get in the way of the story.

Well-chosen top-40 tunes from the era are used effectively. Given the current ’70s nostalgia, pic’s soundtrack could click on the charts.

To offer “My Girl 2″ the highest possible praise: It doesn’t make one fear the prospect of a “My Girl 3.”

My Girl 2

Production

A Columbia Pictures release of a Brian Grazer/Imagine Films Entertainment production. Produced by Grazer. Executive producers, David T. Friendly, Howard Zieff, Joseph M. Caracciolo. Directed by Howard Zieff. Screenplay, Janet Kovalci , based on characters created by Laurice Elehwany.

Crew

Camera (color), Paul Elliott; editor, Wendy Greene Bricmont; music, Cliff Eidelman; production design, Charles Rosen; art direction, Diane Yates; set design, Harold Fuhrman; set decoration, Mary Olivia McIntosh; costume design, Shelley Komarov; sound (Dolby), John Sutton III; assistant director, Jerry Sobul; associate producer, Devorah Moos-Hankin; casting, Alan Berger. Reviewed at Loews Memorial City Mall Cinema, Houston, Feb. 9, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 99 minutes.

With

Hary Sultenfuss - Dan Aykroyd Shelly Sultenfuss - Jamie Lee Curtis Vada Sultenfuss - Anna Chlumsky Nick Zsigmond - Austin O'Brien Phil Sultenfuss - Richard Masur Rose Zsigmond - Christine Ebersole Jeffrey Pommeroy - John David Souther Maggie Muldovan - Angeline Ball Alfred Beidermeyer - Aubrey Morris Dr. Sam Helburn - Gerrit Graham Stanley Rosenfeld - Ben Stein Daryl Tanaka - Keone Young Arthur - Anthony R. Jones Hilary Mitchell - Jodie Markell Peter Webb - Richard Beymer
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more