Movie Review: Emma Thompson brings back the laughs for “Bridget Jones’s Baby”

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Getting Oscar winning actress Emma Thompson into the cast of “Bridget Jones’s Baby” was a coup, and as Bridget’s OB-GYN, she’s the perfect droll foil to all the rom-com pregnancy nonsense going on around her.

Letting her take a pass at the script was even more inspired, as the Oscar winning screenwriter (“Sense & Sensibility”) renders this third and hopefully final film in this Britcomedy about a “singleton” who keeps a diary warm and watchable.

Because a dozen years ago, the sequel to “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” was a bit of an abortion.

Not “LIT-rally,” as Bridget herself might put it. But “Edge” certainly was a comedy that never should have been brought to term.

Here, we open with a funeral and end with a wedding. We bury Hugh Grant’s louche lout at a ceremony Bridget and his legions of female conquests cannot keep a straight face through.

Then Bridget gets pregnant. And as ever, there are two men she figures could be the father. It’s just two different men.

Because even at 43, having “reached my ideal weight” with her cute and cozy flat and job (TV newscast producer) she’s plainly incompetent to do, she’s still the klutz.

Renee Zellweger re-connects to Bridget as best she can, though the pratfalls and potty-mouth are somehow less endearing in a grown woman “of a certain age.” She’s cracking to her new BFF, a saucy anchorwoman (Sarah Solemani), about being “past my sexual sell-by date,” and that any dreams of motherhood must be dashed as “I’m sure my eggs must be hard-boiled by now!”

But it’s easy to believe that this pathologically careless cutie — lousing up live interviews by taking phone calls during newscasts — could get pregnant by accident.

The interior monologues — diary entries (now on computer) — are still here, but less vital to the narrative. “Can’t go back and keep making same mistakes,” she types. “Must make new ones!”

A one-night fling in a tent at a rock festival with a dashing, willing American (Patrick Dempsey) might have led to her condition. Or another one-nighter with her longtime off-and-on beau, now married and moved-on (Mark Darcy) could have been the magic moment.

Either way, she’s unmarried with child and utterly hapless at the business of figuring out who the dad is and keeping the two potential dads from running into each other and figuring out her secret.

Dempsey brings his “McDreamy” A-game to this comedy, and he makes a far more engaging contrast to the stuffy stiff Darcy that Colin Firth could play in his sleep. Sure, the whole handsome heel vs. snobbish man of character thing worked for Jane Austen, and for novelist Helen Fielding, who copied copied and goofed-on “Pride and Prejudice” for “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

And nothing against Hugh Grant, terrific, at least in the first film. But Dempsey lands his funny lines, manhandles Zellweger when called for and gives this story something new– American charm. His best scene? A disastrous live TV interview on the show Bridget produces, in which she has her anchor pal prod the dating website guru on his love life, genetics and the like.

Dempsey, a movie star since childhood, plays this like every irritated celebrity trapped in an off-the-rails interview, someone who still has something to sell and who cannot get up and leave. It’s wonderful work that he handles as if it’s happened to him a hundred times. Which it probably has.

Firth, wearing the perpetual scowl of an unhappily married barrister stuck defending a rude and plainly Russian girl band NOT named Pussy Riot against extradition to a villain state (plainly Russia), has aged into a dead ringer for Sam the Eagle of The Muppets. Still a hearthrob, but now an Oscar winner utterly unchallenged by this part.

Zellweger, who has endured years of abuse about how she has changed her appearance, doesn’t really silence that here. She’s lovely, though how she managed the odd trick of looking much older in the opening scene than in the last one is less of a mystery than it should be.

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Her performance captures a little of the sparkle of the first film, now fifteen years in the past. But there’s a weariness about the character that’s not entirely due to her ongoing, hapless and unhappy state of singleton-hood.

The script, which Fielding had a hand in, has a gutless touch or two — you’ll know them when you see them — and far too much low-hanging fruit, easy laughs, none easier than having Bridget, assorted mom-pals with children (Shirley Henderson) and children themselves filling the screen with F-bombs.

It’s not just easy, it’s lazy. That’s the thing about profanity in general and the F-bomb in particular. The more liberally you apply it to a featherweight comedy, the weaker the effect.

The weighty stuff the movie might have wrestled with — a media culture of young, trend-chasing faux hipsters — makes no worthy foil for Bridget. Because the idea of an incompetent like her standing up for “journalism” is as laughable to her as it is to us.

Still, in a just world, you’d hope this would land the one-time America’s (and Britain’s) Sweetheart a new acting lease on life. Zellweger shows flashes of her Oscar winning talent and is certainly not past her sell-by date, even if she’s tampered entirely too much with the packaging.

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MPAA Rating:R for language, sex references and some nudity

Cast: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Sarah SolemaniShirley Henderson
Credits: Directed by Sharon Maguire, script by Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson A Universal release.

Running time: 2:02

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