Based on Helen Fielding's best-seller (which was itself somewhat lazily based on Jane Austen), this uber chick flick features Rene Zellweger as the Millennium Everywoman, Bridget Jones. Constantly fighting her battles with weight, various nasty addictions and inappropriate boyfriends, she is a game sort, ever ready to party her blues away, pick herself up, dust herself off, etc. The two major men in her life are Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), her randy, naughty boss at the publishing firm for which she does p.r., and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a stuffy lawyer with zero style sense, whom she's known from childhood. She careers back and forth between them, as well as a variety of actual careers, eventually finding success as a peculiarly hapless TV newswoman.

Fluffy only begins to describe both premise and execution. This was written by Fielding, Andrew Davies (who did the unbearably overwrought 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice) and, most tellingly, Richard Curtis, responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and other twee Brit romantic comedies. To be very un-p.c. about it, they are all the Anglo equivalent of what once was referred to as minstrel shows. However, instead of stereotyped African Americans shuffling and breaking out into soul-stirring song, the players in this genre are so English, it bloody hurts. They're given to winsome pronouncements like 'the gravy needs sieving,' brazenly flaunt their near-incapacitating, vaunted repression, and basically behave with a wordy combination of archness and precocity that makes you fairly want to slap them all.

Sharon Maguire's boutique-ish direction--all pert stylistic details obscuring any larger, farcically organic picture--only emphasizes the script's monotony. (Maguire, a personal friend of Fielding's, inspired one of the book's characters; the incestuousness palls.) It's an endless series of madcap parties (wherein that crazy Bridget breaks out into tone-deaf karaoke, wears an inappropriate Playboy bunny costume, screws up the introduction of a prominent author before heavyweights like Salman Rushdie, and is made to feel the humiliation of being a self-dubbed "singleton" at a marrieds only dinner). She inevitably debases herself--albeit "charmingly"--and this is followed by scenes of her sternly resolving to clean up her act (i.e., lose weight). The music score is derivatively awash in empowering black-diva anthems by such as Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin--as usual, the only non-white presence, albeit unseen. There's very little spontaneous life here, and pitiful few real laughs. Just the sight of the ever-newly affirmed Bridget, crossing London Bridge, has more spirit than any of the torturously devised comic set-pieces. (Yet, again, even this visual device is overused, turning her into some newfangled Mary Tyler Moore.) There's a ridiculously unconvincing brawl between Mark and Daniel in a Greek restaurant, which is demolished in a way that may have you reacting more to its blithe insensitivity, rather than laughing. Things further degenerate with repetitive scenes of Bridget breathlessly chasing an ever-unattainable Mark all over London, like a lunatic version of Dustin Hoffman's Graduate.

With a believable accent and attitude, Zellweger manages to acquit herself respectably, but the role affords her none of the real histrionic discovery or deep charm of her work in The Whole Wide World or Nurse Betty. In fact, Bridget's very Britishness and her too-clichd modern career girl aspects seem to constrain this appealing actress, corseting her naturally lovely Jean Arthur-ish underdog quality. Bridget really seems something of a hapless, immature dolt, and scenes of her making a literal ass of herself on TV don't help and are, indeed, more than a tad offensively patronizing. Zellweger is forced to play a cartoon of herself and all the press trumpeting over her "courageous" weight gain and loss for the role is downright creepy, much ado over naught. With the 20 or so extra pounds, she looks like a normal, rather slender girl, rather than any tub of lard.

Typical of the cheesiness-masquerading-as-cleverness is the casting of Firth as a character named Darcy. In Pride and Prejudice, he made susceptible women the world over swoon over his intensely stereotypical romantic posturing. Here, he's merely called upon to repeat himself and comes off as more than a little weedy and tired. Grant is better, as he always is, playing rotters (as in Maurice and An Awfully Big Adventure), rather than his usual, eternally waffling, romantically hedging Mayfair version of Jimmy Stewart. The seduction scene wherein he exults over Bridget's capacious lingerie provides maybe the one real laugh. But he, too, is forced to overdo the enchantment and becomes as tiresome as anyone else. The only truly fresh bits of acting are delivered by Jim Broadbent as Bridget's cuckolded, melancholy Dad. Gemma Jones as her dippy mum is a stale caricature, as are Bridget's circle of friends (although one is played by the talented comedienne Sally Phillips, and another by Shirley Henderson, so memorable in Topsy-Turvy).

--David Noh