The famous diary seems to have disappeared, along with the chardonnay and the calorie counting. But the most significant change between the first Bridget Jones movie and this sequel is not an absence but a presence, specifically in Bridget's bedroom: lying by her side is Mark Darcy, the saturnine gent who's become in the six weeks of their courtship "a total sex god". This would seem to make everything in our heroine's world tickety-boo, but it gives the film-makers a problem. "What comes after the happily ever after"? is the way they put it, though the question could also be couched: "What is the point of Bridget Jones when she's no longer a singleton?"
The team behind Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason has considered this, and the answer goes: look, we've had a hit with it once - we'll muddle through a second helping. Talking of which, Renée Zellweger as Bridget looks as if she's had second helpings of everything for the past six months, though she handles the extra poundage if not with grace then certainly with professionalism. Her flat-footed waddle and tendency to scrunch up her eyes when she smiles are rather endearing, and the rubicund glow on her cheeks retains a kind of Alpine wholesomeness. I wonder how many other Hollywood actresses would submit themselves to this quivering-jelly look, or indeed to the gauntlet of humiliations that Bridget stumbles through. The film is barely five minutes old and already she has skydived from a plane smack-dab into a pigsty, where TV cameras are on hand to catch her soggy-bottom moment.
This is pretty much like the scene where she flies bum-first down the fireman's pole in the original movie, an early indication that we will be watching less a sequel than a remake. Well, slapstick can be infinitely recycled, but the tug of love can't be duplicated now that domestic bliss has been installed chez Jones. The solution dreamed up by the film's four credited writers - Andrew Davies, Helen Fielding, Richard Curtis, Adam Brooks - is to do away with a plot altogether and simply vary the misunderstandings that kept Bridget and Mark apart first time round. So now Bridget goes into unlikely paroxysms of paranoia every time she sees Mark talking to his attractive new colleague Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett). She is exasperated by the way Mark folds his underpants. At a Law Society dinner she makes an injudicious remark about bald, right-wing nobs in front of certain bald, right-wing nobs. And she gets the hump when Mark expresses a mild hope that, should he ever have a son, he would put him down for Eton.
These are small awkwardnesses by any standard, but for the purpose of driving a wedge between the two lovebirds they have to fake the importance of relationship wreckers. You could call it lame. And who should be waiting to break Bridget's fall but Mr Love Rat himself, Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), who has conveniently joined the very TV company where Bridget now works. Hugh Grant seems to enjoy reprising Cleaver's drawling insouciance, even if the script gives him mostly the same shtick, loftily addressing Bridget as "Jones", enthusing over her big pants and breaking through her defences. He also gets to make nice with Jeremy Paxman and then walk away muttering "tosser" under his breath.
The film blows its budget on a trip to Thailand where Daniel and Bridget are filming a holiday programme, the only time in the movie where the mushy mood threatens to turn sour as Bridget is arrested and imprisoned on a drug-smuggling charge. Director Beeban Kidron, who has been grouting the gaps between set-pieces with blasts of pop music, then presides over what might be the most excruciating scene of any movie this year when Bridget leads her fellow inmates in a Madonna-inspired dance routine - "Like a Virgin", in a Thai prison? I wasn't sure which was more offensive, the tasteless exploitation or the technical incompetence.
At some point you have to ask: how little are the fans prepared to settle for? Will it matter to them that there's a public fisticuffs between Darcy and Cleaver virtually identical to the first movie? That Bridget's three "friends", Jude, Shazza and Tom, have absolutely no life during their few dismal scenes? That a breathless cab ride figures at the finale, as it does in almost every movie Richard Curtis touches? I'm afraid it probably won't. Nor will it bother the folk at Working Title once the queues start forming. All the same, this is a pretty tawdry product, and it hasn't even the virtue of novelty any more. Throughout one senses a desperation to please, to seek the easiest laughs and the quickest payoffs. The writers can't even manage to be consistent in their positioning of Bridget. One minute she's an expert on celebrity trivia and answering quiz questions on Footballers' Wives, the next she's confusing Iran with the name of David Bowie's wife. As for Bridget being elevated to heroic status, this movie inadvertently turns the idea on its head. I might be reading too much into Colin Firth's look of suppressed mortification, but I wonder how close Darcy came to telling Bridget what a needy, ignorant, self-involved, paranoid wreck she actually is.