Carnival smooching takes a back seat in “The Kissing Booth 2,” a treacly Netflix sequel that finds Elle (Joey King), alongside her best pal Lee (Joel Courtney), returning for more prep school escapades. Before senior year is up, Elle must juggle college applications, a cagey beau, friendship woes and, most absurdly, a high-profile dance video game competition held inside a colossal arena. The director Vince Marcello leans heavily on montage to get us through this deluge of invented drama which, mercilessly, unspools over more than two hours.
Devoted fans may recall that Elle, in “The Kissing Booth,” played soccer. But that sport — and any trace of normal high school activity — recedes here. Instead, Elle’s classmates compete in an elaborate Color War and go to glam dances that look more like the Met Gala than a school function. Much gossip surrounds the cute transfer student, Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez), who begins vying for Elle’s attention. She, all the while, is pining after Noah (Jacob Elordi), her long-distance boyfriend who, we’re frequently reminded, attends Harvard as a freshman. His controlling bad boy vibe was the source of much tension in the first movie but here, thankfully, he seems to have toned down the aggression.
If “The Kissing Booth,” stacked with regressive relationship dynamics, is Victorian in its views, “The Kissing Booth 2” progresses to the midcentury. Elle is no longer an object for men to possess and protect, and though true love is still paramount, the story comes to prize personal growth. Marcello makes this theme literal in Elle’s asinine college essay prompt: “What do you want to be in five years?” In the most plausible beat in this movie, Elle’s answer is laden with platitudes.
The Kissing Booth 2
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. Watch on Netflix.