In the popular romantic comedy, “Miss Congeniality,” Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, an awkward and unrefined FBI field agent forced into an extreme makeover against her wishes. During her undercover assignment with the Miss United States Pageant, she discovers her hidden outer beauty (as does her co-worker played by Benjamin Bratt). The clever story, Henry Higgins-type makeover, budding romance, and amusing subplots among the contestants combine to make “Miss Congeniality” a great date movie. The sequel, “Miss Congeniality 2 – Armed and Fabulous” isn’t a great date movie, however. In fact, the unfunny sequel (without Bratt or any other love interest) doesn’t even qualify as a date movie at all.
It’s a mystery why filmmakers would think that the sequel to a romantic comedy could succeed without the romance, and often without the comedy. Take “Legally Blonde 2,” for instance. The original “Legally Blonde” introduced us to the delightful Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a young woman who finds herself by being lost in love. Unfortunately it’s the humor and romance that are lost in this tepid sequel which focuses its attention on gay canines, conniving bosses, and courtroom shenanigans. Her fiancé from the first movie (Luke Wilson) is mainly absent in the sequel except through occasional phone calls. The laughs are absent this time, as well.
But “Miss Congeniality 2” and “Legally Blonde 2” aren’t the only victims of the curse of the unromantic date movie sequel. Just because the original date movie has the right balance of action, adventure, intrigue, wit, and romance, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sequel will capture the same magic or maintain the same romantic momentum.
Take the sequels to “Speed,” “Fletch,” and “Romancing the Stone.” They’re not likely to heat up anyone’s evening. Then there are movie franchises such as “Rocky” and “Crocodile Dundee,” which started off as great date movies and turned into unromantic formula films limping in and out of theaters over the years.
Although “Bridget Jones’s Diary” contains humor, good characterization, and sexual tension, its sequel “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” offers little new in terms of plot and comedy, and nothing new in the romance department. The sparkling chemistry in the original “Bridget Jones’s Diary” made us care about the bloated Brit, lovable scoundrel, and handsome prude. In the lackluster sequel, however, the love triangle continues with no one growing, changing, or learning. It’s difficult to feel compassion (let alone lust) for any of these stagnant characters.
And while the hilarious “Meet the Fockers” is not cursed with an unfunny script, the romance of the original “Meet the Parents” was pushed aside to make way for the humor.
The worst date movie sequels are when the filmmakers produce a Part 2 that doesn’t have the original stars from Part 1 (e.g., “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” and “Son of the Mask”). Re-creating the same situations without the original stars guarantees a film without the original sexual chemistry. Hoping for romance? You’re lucky if the movie is even watchable.
Occasionally, there’s an exception to the curse of the unromantic date movie sequel. Try “Spider-Man 2,” “The Legend of Zorro,” and “Shrek 2” These three exceptions not-so-coincidentally all have common traits: They feature the original stars, use the same director, stay close to the original storyline, and need maintain only a moderate level of sexual tension to stay on par with their predecessors.
The secret to successful date movie sequels is the same secret to successful long-term dating. Exciting initial sexual chemistry fades into comfortable familiarity both on-screen and off-screen. Quirky little character flaws become much less endearing over the years when people fail to grow and mature. Like the real-life relationships they depict, date movie sequels lose their sexual sizzle unless time and attention are devoted to keeping the characters and situations fresh.