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The Kissing Booth 2: Surprisingly Improved Sequel

The Kissing Booth 2 is a marked improvement on its predecessor, but still remains a low stakes, disposable romantic comedy.

The first Kissing Booth film from two years ago was roundly – and deservedly – criticized for its retrograde gender depictions. Telling the story of a high school student who stumbles into increased popularity after circumstances force her to wear an incredibly small skirt, the first film positioned lead Elle Evans (Joey King of The Act) as a sort of pawn whose only real character traits were derived from her relationship to the two men – brothers in a possessive love triangle – around her.  King is a talented, likable performer who did as much as anyone could to elevate the material, but we have simply evolved beyond a romance with a love story that basically consists of the man punching a guy who slaps the girl’s ass.  For reasons unbeknownst to this critic, audiences responded positively and the film was considered a sizable hit in Netflix’s internal rubric. And so, we’re rewarded with a sequel.

To this film’s credit, it appears writer/director Vince Marcello listened to the feedback on the first film. Elle no longer seems to be predicated around her tether to a man – in fact, the film’s first scene sees her basically declare her independence from the men that dominated her universe the first time around.  Finally, the character has some agency in her relationship decisions and appears to actually pursue what she desires instead of what the plot requires.

Yet, it is still a frothy, effortless, and consequence free universe that this character inhabits.  Apparent deep disputes are resolved without any lasting impact, and this sequel is now populated by a hell of a lot of extra, excess characters.  Beyond returning characters like Elle’s best friend Lee (Joel Courtney of Super 8) and her romantic interest Noah (Jacob Elordi), this films adds a number players to the mix including a new suitor, Marko (Taylor Zakhar Perez), an Instagram workout star and world class Dance Dance Revolution player (no, I’m not making this up), and Chloe, a perceived threat to her romance, played by Maisie Richardson-Sellers (Legends of Tomorrow).  Richardson-Sellers might be the only actor into the entire cast who seems to be acting on the sort of vampy wavelength the movie deserves, and her appearances serve as little jolts of energy.

loud and clear reviews The Kissing Booth 2
Joey King, Joel Courtney, Taylor Zakhar Perez and Jacob Elordi in The Kissing Booth 2 (Marcos Cruz/Netflix)

And boy oh boy does a supposedly bubbly romantic comedy with an inexcusable 132 minute run time need little jolts of energy.  This thing drags laboriously by the end.  What feels like a near countless array of characters have little underserved arcs that all conveniently wrap up at this film’s climax which is set at… come on, you can guess! …. a kissing booth.  It is truly bizarre to see character who have had only a small handful of lines have grandiose romantic moments tossed into the climax.  It feels as though an entire season of a teen soap opera has been chopped down to a Netflix friendly run time.

It sure is surreal that we live in a world where Netflix has turned disposable romantic comedies into franchises.  I can only assume we’re on the precipices of a Netflix Romantic Comedy Cinematic Universe, where the peripheral characters from The Kissing Booth, Set It Up, and To All the Boys franchises overlap and shenanigans ensue.  This is objectively not a good movie, but I could imagine a worse bit of low effort background noise.  If saccharine endings, montages, bright colors, high schoolers who train to win Dance Dance Revolution competitions instead of attending any classes, and a gallery of male suitors on the superhero movie steroid plan are up your alley, you will probably enjoy this more than I did.

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