Big girls' pants

Film - Bawdy comic treats redeem clumsy cinema-by-numbers. By Mark Kermode

Bridget Jones: The E

From humble beginnings as the ditzy, thirtysomething anti-heroine of a satirical newspaper column, Bridget Jones has risen through the pages of bestselling novels to become an extremely saleable big-screen star. In 2001, Sharon Maguire's film of Bridget Jones's Diary reportedly racked up $280m worldwide, thanks in no small part to the feisty charms of Renee Zellweger, who (let us not forget) began her screen career as the scream-queen star of The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now, in accordance with movie marketing law, we have a Bridget Jones sequel, also based on the writings of Helen Fielding, which reunites the main characters from the original for an obligatory rehash of their money-spinning adventures. This time around, the ante is duly upped by a scenic trip that briefly lands Bridget in jail in Thailand - the writers gamely using the old globe-trotting trick to cover up the fact that we've all been here before - but the essential co-ordinates (Bridget is torn between the affections of nice Mark Darcy and nasty Daniel Cleaver, who wind up having a fist fight for her honour) are all too familiar.

As a textbook example of cack-handedly cynical modern movie-making, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is pretty hard to beat. Paramount among its shortcomings is the fact that its helmsperson, Beeban Kidron (who has built an entire career upon the praiseworthy reputation of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit), clearly could not direct traffic, let alone a romantic comedy. Not a single dramatic moment goes by without the makers plastering on some appallingly explanatory pop song (10CC's "I'm Not in Love" accompanies a scene in which Hugh Grant's Lothario is not in love with Bridget - geddit?) or employing some grotesquely overstated dramatic device (billboards in Piccadilly Circus flashing subtextual messages such as "Go Bridget!") to reassure the audience that the film-makers won't do anything important without telling them VERY LOUDLY IN ADVANCE. Worse still, the eco-friendly recycling of all the memorable gags from the original (Hugh Grant and the big pants, Colin Firth and the big meeting, Renee Zellweger and the big bum) merely draws attention to the clumsily perfunctory nature of a narrative that spends ages breaking up the perfect couple who were united at the end of part one just so they can enjoy yet another romantic reunion at the climax of part two.

Within such an economy of cinematic catastrophe, it is perhaps surprising that this lumpen sequel (which some critics predict will become another of the bestselling British comedies of all time) raises as many laughs as it does. For, despite the wanton absence of anything vaguely approaching screen artistry, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason did manage to make me giggle, chuckle, and even occasionally guffaw, never more so than when Grant's superbly slimy TV travel presenter advised viewers to give the Vatican a miss on the grounds that it was the first example of poof interior decorating gone mad. There are bawdy treats, too, in bad-boy Cleaver's declaration that he not only knows the whereabouts of his own arsehole but also that of his previous paramour, reminding us that Bridget Jones's Diary was one of the very few mainstream romantic comedies to contain an explicit joke about anal sex. As for the enticingly repetitive use of the words "fuck", "shit" and "bugger", one can only give thanks and praise that Richard Curtis, one of the film's four co-writers, has long been an upholder of the great, sweary traditions of Anglo-Saxon, and hope that he never grows tired of writing like a public-school boy doing detention for smoking in the toilets.

Most importantly, however, praise is due to the performers, who somehow manage to hold their comic heads high even as the rancid stench of utterly rubbish film-making militates earnestly against them. Top marks go to Grant, who seems to have embraced his post-"Divine Brown scandal" role as a rakish perv with a deliciously dirty mouth - one in whose company I would happily waste 90 naughty minutes. Hats off, too, to Colin Firth, who reprises that oddly postmodern trick of playing "TV's-Mr-Darcy-playing-Bridget's-Mr-Darcy" and who manages to inject an unlikely air of credibility into the frankly dopey role of a human rights lawyer who is both a great bloke and a great shag. As for Zellweger, that she has embraced a character who spends most of her screen time wearing dismally ill-fitting clothes which deliberately emphasise Bridget's alleged bodily shortcomings speaks volumes about her own justified comic confidence.

Kidron may have had her funny bone surgically removed (remember the mirthless high-camp "comedy" of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar?), but even her witless direction cannot entirely stifle these players' ability to raise a laugh.