Bridget Behind Bars!

Desperate to propel a plot when chemistry doesn't work, this sequel puts its heroine through the wringer. Female viewers may feel similarly abused.

The idea that marriage completes us—that women especially haven't realized their potential until they've found a male mate—is not a new one. Bridget Jones didn't invent it and neither did her creator, author Helen Fielding—she just lifted it from Jane Austen. Nearly 200 years after Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice and exactly "six glorious weeks" (and "71 ecstatic shags") after the original 2001 movie left off, it seems that we're still mired in an ideological mindfuck that says—as Pride and Prejudice's first sentence does—a man with a bank account must be looking for a wife. It follows that a woman with a pulse is searching for a man with money, and there's your basic premise to Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, which opens Friday, Nov. 12, at the Metro and other theaters.

As Edge of Reason begins, the man with the money, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), and his new girlfriend, Bridget (Renée Zellweger), are sailing right along in their fairy-tale romance—at least that's what she tells you (in keeping with the diary format, Zellweger again narrates). But aside from a shared delight in shagging and a text-messaging scene that might have been cute but instead feels predictable and forced, Bridget and Mark don't act like a couple. They don't seem like people who would even end up in the same room together. He's a wealthy, important civil-rights attorney who exudes sophistication, and she's a bumbling television personality who skydives into pigpens and wouldn't know poise if it got stuck in her perpetually pushed-up bosom. They have nothing to talk about—except, of course, their implausible relationship.

Mark tells Bridget he loves her—and she, of course, returns the sentiment, even though you've only seen tolerance and clinging, respectively, between them. Zellweger pouts like a child, Firth stands expressionless at Bridget's stupidity. If you hadn't at least the thin backbone of the original to serve as back story, I'm not sure you'd have any idea how or why they hooked up.

As with the first round, a lot of Fielding's nuances are lost in translation; where her books were, sometimes at least, clever and mildly provocative, the movie adaptations have left poor Bridget without any dimension at all. Witty observations are dumbed down considerably. Three years later, Bridget Jones has gotten stupider and a little puffier, not older or fatter. The only action in Edge of Reason is slapstick—really bad, overused, recycled slapstick: Downhill skiing follies! Accidentally horrendous make-up application! Scaling Mark's townhouse walls and peering in his skylights to spy on him—and falling into the bushes! Maybe it's my reaction to the recent election, but the movie almost feels like some further bullshit Republican backlash against feminism. (You can picture the Bush daughters loving the movie.) If one thing, the film at least proves that Great Britain is as underevolved as we are—but didn't we already know that?

BUT WHAT'S OFFENSIVE about Edge of Reason isn't that it's extremely bad or even that it supports a misogynist agenda in the most idiotic way. It's actually a subplot that ends up morally degrading the entire picture.

Exactly at the one-hour point, Bridget breaks up with Mark, and moments later she ends up back in cahoots with Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), now a television personality himself. The newly single Bridget ends up getting cast alongside him in a travel show, and when, on the flight to film their first episode in Thailand, he rescues her by bringing her up into the first-class cabin with him (when a man with a bank account . . . ), you know how their work trip is going to turn out. But before the ex-shaggers can reunite, a teenage Thai hooker shows up to service Daniel in his hotel room. Bridget is pissed and takes off, but not because Daniel is playing into one of the biggest human-rights tragedies of our time. Bridget isn't even woman enough to notice that aspect of it, and the filmmakers aren't responsible enough to know that making light (very light) of the Asian sex-tourism trade—as the film does several times within the travel-show segment—is in extremely poor taste.

Worse, when Bridget ends up getting detained and thrown into a Thai slammer (you know Bridget; she gets herself in all kinds of mischief), she ends up figuring out, via the heroin-and-abuse stories of her fellow inmates, that maybe she shouldn't have broken up with Mark simply because he folds his boxer shorts before he goes to bed at night. Cool. The film is using the sex workers as jokes and as emotion-bending wrenches for brainless twits.

SURE, I'M TAKING it all too seriously. We go to the movies to forget about our troubled world. We love this chick-lit shit because it's a good break from our own one-sided, self-destructive, codependent relationships. (Wait—how does that work again?) At the preview for Edge of Reason, I was the only one not howling with laughter. So far as the pratfalls are concerned, Zellweger is no Lucille Ball, but single women everywhere apparently love her for being self-effacing and clumsy. The only thing that's funny about Edge of Reason is that anyone at all finds it funny. And yet, that doesn't actually work out very well, either.

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