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Bridget’s back - with two beaus and a baby

How excited was the audience to see “Bridget Jones’s Baby”? They applauded the prescreening cellphone piracy speech.

Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary” was a chick-lit sensation and fans prayed that the 2001 film would live up to the book. As Bridget would say, “just don’t muck it up.”

The film adaptation starring Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, was a megahit, and a sequel (“Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason”) also surpassed expectations. So Fielding penned a third novel (“Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy”) in which she killed off fan favorite Mark Darcy. Talk about a buzzkill.

Hollywood was not about to let a novelist’s misstep get in the way of a cash cow, so “Bridget Jones’s Baby” was conceived in which Darcy, very much alive, plays a key role. Not content to bring just one fan favorite back from the dead, the savvy casting team also resurrected Patrick Dempsey, who had met a similar fate on “Grey’s Anatomy.” McDreamy makes the shift to the big screen in effortless fashion and his arrival is met with audible sighs from the audience. Take that, Shonda Rimes.

Fifteen years later, fans are clearly still invested in these characters and in the new release, “Bridget Jones’s Baby,” in which our dear daft heroine finds herself preggers at age 43, as a result of decades old vegan condoms she used during a one-night stand with a stranger at a music festival and a tryst with on-again/off-again flame Darcy.

Since this is Bridget Jones, the one night-stand (Dempsey) is not a stalker, but a gorgeous sensitive billionaire mathematician/dating site guru. Bridget has to choose between two gorgeous, successful men who love her and her baby. Not a lot of dramatic downside here.

The gang is all back for “Baby” – with one notable and very funny exception. Her buddies who are now parents themselves are back and her parents (the brilliant Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones) again add humor and warmth from the opening scene in which Mum tries to Facetime her daughter on her birthday.

While the cast has aged a tad, they are still charming and the movie has the same sweet magic of the first film. (Well, as sweet as you can get with a litany of gratuitous f-bombs.) Yes, Zellweger looks a bit different but still embodies Bridget, conveying the sympathetic everywoman appeal that made the character a phenomenon. As Darcy, Firth is actually getting more handsome with age although Bridget wonders if, after 10 years of fits and starts, their relationship has played out.

The film smartly does not focus solely on the pregnancy. Bridget’s work as a “hard news” producer provides lots of laughs as the man-bunned millennials try to dumb down the show by shifting to cats that look like Hitler when the conversation gets too esoteric. Darcy defends a Pussy Riot-type group in a women’s rights case which nicely shadows Bridget’s personal growth.

Emma Thomson (who co-wrote the screenplay) gives a spot-on performance as Dr. Rawlings who is managing Bridget’s “geriatric pregnancy.” She suggests the fathers leave the room for the birth: “My ex said it was like seeing his favorite pub burn down.”

From the opening scene to the satisfying finale, Director Sharon Maguire (who also helmed the first film) shows a deft touch and sharp comedic pacing. Only the middle third feels a bit drawn out — not unlike pregnancy. There is lots of physical comedy and the preview audience cooed over the flashbacks from the previous films.

With its evocative soundtrack and wink at another famous film romance, “Baby” may be formulaic but the formula works.

Even Bridget couldn’t muck this up.

Movie Review

3 ½ stars (out of 4)

“Bridget Jones’s Baby”

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Emma Thompson

Director: Sharon Maguire

Rated: R for language, sex references and some nudity.

Running time: 122 minutes

The lowdown: A pregnant Bridget is unsure of the baby’s father.

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