Perhaps the time has come to admit it: Renée Zellweger is an excellent actress. There's a certain critical snobbishness towards the all-American star playing the English everygirl: a slack-jawed "how did she scam that?" reaction to her rise from Reality Bites bit-player to premièr(e)-league star. The reason critics are reluctant to give her credit is the very reason we embrace her; it's the reason she's perfect, better than's deserved, in fact - for the role of Bridget Jones: she feels like one of us. There are some stars who elicit this auto-empathy from audiences. No matter the character, the viewers' default response is affection. It's a gift. Matt Damon has it, Denzel Washington has it, Tom Hanks has it (and tends to abuse it). That Zellweger is the only female star on this list reveals why she's so in demand. She may need to play a disabled crack-whore to win a Best Actress Oscar to pair with her Supporting statuette, but improves here on the original's nominated turn.
Which is just as well, given that just about everything else is so similar. Working Title is often pilloried for its patented romantic-comedy formula, as if it's wrong to make commercially successful, enjoyable pictures (the criticism is also unfair considering WT's productions include The Man Who Wasn't There and Shaun Of The Dead). However, The Edge Of Reason is so formulaic you could almost be watching algebra. It isn't a sequel so much as a remake. "What happens after you walk off into the sunset?" asks Bridget in the opening voiceover. The answer being, pretty much what happened before the sunset. Bridget is still a likeable lass who only opens her mouth to swap feet. She still wears big knickers. She's still torn between two photogenic contrasts: the uptight Darcy (Firth, in a thankless role) and the charismatic Cleaver (Grant). And she still makes an arse of herself, with the first film's fireman's-pole bum/ camera interface replaced by a porcine-parachute, bum/camera calamity. Where the follow-up does differ is with an ill-advised interlude in a Thai jail, where chocolate, bras and Madonna are presented as a panacea for domestic abuse, poverty and prostitution. Germaine Greer's gonna love that. You also have to ask, come the Four Weddings-style conclusion: what is so bloody romantic about getting wet?
If these gripes seem a little sour, it's worth re-emphasising how impressive Zellweger is. And Grant, too, is superb. Another underrated actor, he relishes the ribald one-liners, virtually every one of which delivers a belly laugh. If WT makes another Diary, it should focus on his unapologetic, old-school cad. But after this fun but thinly stretched sequel, the Brit hit-makers might do well to remember that two's company...
Funny but overfamiliar, The Edge Of Reason coasts on Zellweger's charisma. Like sex without love, it only satisfies on a certain level.