Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey, right, have their hands full...

Colin Firth and Patrick Dempsey, right, have their hands full with Renée Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Baby." Credit: AP / Giles Keyte

PLOT The modern-day Austen heroine returns, this time in a family way.

CAST Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey

RATED R (sexuality and language)


BOTTOM LINE No match for the 2001 original, but the endearing cast makes this third installment better than expected.

At first, it sounds like a stretch: “Bridget Jones’s Baby”? Surely the adorable Brit with the self-deprecating wit isn’t still biting her nails over a pregnancy test at the age of 43? Renée Zellweger, who has played Bridget since 2001, is actually 47, and her new leading man, Patrick Dempsey, is 50. Colin Firth, playing his third iteration of the gruff but passionate lawyer Mark Darcy, just turned 56. At what point does this graying franchise become the rom-com version of “The Expendables”?

And yet the movie’s premise, in which Bridget becomes pregnant but isn’t sure by whom, feels undeniably modern. Older women are indeed becoming new mothers, and 40 long ago became the new 30. (As for 50, that might be time to face facts.) And so, “Bridget Jones’s Baby” seems fairly plausible. It’s also much better than expected, thanks to the undimmed charm of its three lead actors and the still-deft touch of director Sharon Maguire, back again after sitting out the dreary sequel “The Edge of Reason” (2004).

How does Bridget (now producing a delightfully inept television show misnamed “Hard News”) get into her predicament? Alone after losing Mark, she attends an outdoor music festival and stumbles into the yurt of Jack Qwant (Dempsey). She flees in the morning — she doesn’t know he’s a famous billionaire — and days later finds herself back in Mark’s bed for a sudden tryst.

What follows is a slightly overlong sitcom as Bridget tries to juggle two potential dads until a paternity test can decide, but the cast makes even the routine stuff sparkle. Emma Thompson, as Bridget’s unamused OB-GYN, is terrific (she co-wrote with Dan Mazer and “Jones” novelist Helen Fielding), while Sarah Solemani, as the saucy news anchor Miranda, is good enough for her own spinoff. Kate O’Flynn turns in a broad comic performance as Bridget’s hostile new boss, Alice Peabody, whose solution to everything is more cat videos.

Once again, our Bridget is basically a modern-day Austen heroine, which means two men must battle for her affections. It’s an enduring female fantasy with obvious appeal — but does it strike anyone else as a little outdated? Clearly, some things never get old.

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