Second time round, Bridget is still fat, funny and endearing -- but "all a bit, um, familiar, actually." "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" reteams key cast in a playful retread with the assumption that fans will flock for a second helping. Powerful combo of Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth should ensure very good initial returns in Blighty.

This review was updated on Nov. 3, 2004.

Second time round, Bridget is still fat, funny and endearing — but “all a bit, um, familiar, actually.” Long-in-the-works sequel to 2001 hit, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” reteams key cast in a playful retread with the assumption that fans will flock for a second helping. Powerful combo of Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth — all at the top of their game and utterly comfortable in their characters — plus high want-to-see factor should ensure very good initial returns in Blighty, where it opens Nov. 12 amid saturation coverage, and Stateside a week later, amid a rapid worldwide roll-out.

Even more than “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” current outing takes just the bare bones of Helen Fielding’s weighty, 420-page novel and tries to fashion it into a regular movie. Three writers, including Fielding, labored over the task, with Zellweger, Grant and Firth reportedly only signing on when Richard Curtis (“Notting Hill,” “Love Actually”) did a final rewrite. Curtis’ spirit and evocation of a fairy-tale London and Britishness hang over the entire enterprise in a positive way, though even he hasn’t quite managed to solve the central problem that there’s not a lot going on here.

Fielding’s novel managed to get round the problem with a mass of small incidents, loads of character subplots and the sheer compulsiveness of Bridget’s neuroses. But where “Diary” had a strong will she-won’t she emotional arc as Bridget found her ideal man, “Reason” is basically a series of set pieces that ends up where it started out. There’s no sense of dramatic journey here.

Film picks up six weeks after the end of “Diary,” with Bridget (Zellweger) blissfully happy with upper-class human rights lawyer Mark Darcy (Firth), with whom she’s spent Christmas in the countryside at her gushy parents’ (Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones) home. A doofus reporter for TV show “Stand up, Britain,” she’s bullied at work by her director, Richard (Neil Pearson), but otherwise life is just grand for the overweight Brit ditz. Even her lubricious boss, and onetime heartthrob, Daniel Cleaver (Grant), is away, touring the world as presenter of a dumb travel show.

But, when Bridget’s bitchy singleton pals, Shazza, Jude and gay Tom (Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, all encoring), urge her to dump Mark, and she hears he has been spending time with glamor puss lawyer Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), all of Bridget’s neuroses start flooding back big time.

Kitted out with plenty of pratfall humor — all gamely played by Zellweger — pic’s first half-hour has a nervous energy, plus an intrusive song track, that seems a little too eager. Dialogue, though, has its fair share of humorous squibs, finding its feet during a banquet set piece where Bridget is initially overwhelmed by the snooty company.

A ski trip to Switzerland again includes a knockabout set piece, and ends with Bridget and Mark splitting up.

It’s here, almost halfway through, that a plot of sorts finally starts, signaled by a striking effects sequence of a London nightscape peopled by lonely people in their apartments. Now “single” again, Bridget is dragooned into joining Daniel on a working trip to Thailand.

Realizing Daniel has other things than work on his mind, Bridget takes Shazza along. But when Shazza falls for studly charmer Jed (Paul Nicholls) and Daniel turns up the heat, Bridget ends up in a Thai jail.

Though the script tries to replicate the first film’s heart-tugging moments, there’s a lack of a big emotional arc to tie the episodic structure together. However, on a performance level, the movie is practically flawless.

Zellweger, wearing her 20 extra pounds with even more glee, makes Bridget absolutely her own, with a now-flawless Brit accent and a mass of tiny mannerisms that sustain the role even when the script seems unsure. Given that no more Fielding novels exist, and the films’ relationship to them was only ever a starting point, Zellweger’s Bridget is now a bona fide comic creation that could have a screen future of its own.

With more time than in “Diary,” Firth balances Mark’s emotional retentiveness, inner warmth and class hang-ups in a surprisingly edgy, unpredictable performance that gives the movie its few moments of real uncertainty. At the other end of the scale, Grant, looking like he’s on one big vacation, simply has a ball with Daniel. Other roles, from Phillips’ self-serving Shazza to Jones’ scatty mum, are on the money, while Aussie-born looker Barrett (from MTV’s “The Real World”) is suitably soignee as the Sloaney Rebecca.

Beeban Kidron, taking the helming reins from the original’s Sharon Maguire, turns in a slick, marginally better-looking but generic product that doesn’t mess with the formula. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is always an emotional assist, when given the chance between the jolting use of upbeat songs.

For the record, pic contains a sizable number of jokes that only British viewers will get.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

U.K.-U.S.

Production

A UIP (in U.K.)/Universal (in U.S.) release of a Universal Pictures, StudioCanal, Miramax Films presentation of a Working Title production, in association with Little Bird. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Jonathan Cavendish. Executive producers, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin. Directed by Beeban Kidron. Screenplay, Andrew Davies, Helen Fielding, Richard Curtis, Adam Brooks, from the novel by Fielding.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Adrian Biddle; editor, Greg Hayden; music, Harry Gregson-Williams; additional music, Stephen Barton; music director, Nick Angel; production designer, Gemma Jackson; supervising art director, Dave Warren; art director, Paul Inglis; costume designer, Jany Temime; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital/SDDS), Nick Foley, Simon Hayes, Glenn Freemantle; digital visual effects, Double Negative; visual effects supervisor, Jody Johnson; special effects supervisor, Stuart Brisdon; assistant director, Richard Styles; casting, Michelle Guish, Stacy Mann. Reviewed at UIP screening room, London, Oct. 25, 2004. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Bridget Jones - Renee Zellweger Daniel Cleaver - Hugh Grant Mark Darcy - Colin Firth Dad - Jim Broadbent Mum - Gemma Jones Rebecca - Jacinda Barrett Tom - James Callis Jude - Shirley Henderson Shazzer - Sally Phillips Richard Finch - Neil Pearson Robyn - Jessica Stevenson Jed - Paul Nicholls Una - Celia Imre

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