Grade: 1.5/5.0

Originally a viral Wattpad story written by 15-year-old Beth Reekles, the novel “The Kissing Booth” was transformed into a full-fledged romantic comedy in 2018 by director Vince Marcello. In the film, after locking lips with bad boy Noah Flynn (Jacob Elordi) at her kissing booth fundraiser, high schooler Elle Evans (Joey King) tries to hide their secret relationship from her best friend Lee Flynn (Joel Courtney) — who happens to also be Noah’s brother.

Netflix’s highly anticipated sequel “The Kissing Booth 2” follows Elle’s struggle to stay connected to Noah, who’s now a freshman at Harvard University. The film, which unnecessarily spans more than two hours, is admittedly more developed than its predecessor with three central conflicts rather than one. However, Elle and Noah’s strained long-distance relationship quickly becomes tangled in irrelevant plotlines that solely exist to set up conflict for the upcoming third film.

As Elle grows suspicious of Noah cheating with glamorous Harvard freshman Chloe Winthrop (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), she finds herself drawn to Marco Peña (Taylor Zakhar Perez), a charismatic transfer student. The refreshing introduction of two new characters revives some interest in Elle and Noah’s romance, but the movie’s predictable, poorly executed resolution negates any of the narrative’s potential.

Whether it’s the absurdly long montages of Elle and Noah’s dates or Elle’s mind-numbing narration that laughably attempts to be profound, “The Kissing Booth 2” is unable to escape the clumsiest components of the first film. The popular high school squad known as “the OMG girls” remains an irrelevant stereotype, and Elle and Lee still live by their uncomfortably strict childhood friendship rules (yes, the same rules that almost dismantled their relationship the year prior). Near the end of the movie, even the reappearance of the iconic kissing booth — which had the potential to be a nostalgic scene of resolution — feels uninspired.

“The Kissing Booth 2” also grapples with inconsistent characterization. Noah, previously a notorious womanizer who frequently started fistfights at school, suddenly seems kind and supportive. Lee’s girlfriend, Rachel (Meganne Young), pivots from caring to controlling in an extraneous third wheel conflict with Elle and Lee. Similarly, Marco forces his way into the plot to complete the painfully predictable love triangle with Noah and Elle, and as a result, his character never quite develops at all. He too quickly sheds his arrogance for charm, and his erratic guitar playing and singing is a weak attempt to distinguish him as Noah’s sensitive foil.

As a romantic comedy, the film understandably aims to navigate the ups and downs of relationships, but its blatant failure to develop Elle’s character is nevertheless disappointing. At first, the film revolves around Elle’s college essay question, “What do you want to be in five years?” — a derivative but fairly promising way to potentially focus on Elle’s personal growth, an escape from the quirky, “I’m not like other girls” trope. But instead, the film frequently shifts its thematic focus as Elle latches onto a quote from Audrey Hepburn — “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other” — and chooses to prioritize her bonds with other characters.

This tarnishes one of the movie’s major plotlines: Elle applying to college. Though she and Lee have dreamed of attending UC Berkeley together (“Rule No. 19: Always go to the same school as your bestie”), Elle decides to also apply to Harvard with Noah’s encouragement. Rather than worrying over the admissions process, Elle instead agonizes over which relationship she will have to essentially sacrifice. She isn’t choosing between UC Berkeley and Harvard — she’s choosing between her overprotective best friend and her potentially unfaithful boyfriend. It’s frustrating to see her education be devalued to two toxic relationships, and Elle’s future is so intertwined with Noah and Lee that her character never has the opportunity to grow.

“The Kissing Booth 2” dominated Netflix as the platform’s No. 1 trending film on its opening weekend, and the disturbing popularity of the monotonous series seemingly exemplifies how any movie with a dedicated fanbase can become commercially successful. From lazy character development to substandard resolutions, “The Kissing Booth 2” is an insipid take on envy and trust that is only slightly less nauseating than its predecessor.

Contact Taila Lee at [email protected].