If only they'd called it "Almost No Sex and Very Little City," at least we would know what we were in for with " Sex and the City 2."
In this second screen incarnation of the fabulous HBO series, the satire is sagging, the irony's atrophied and the funny is flabby. Yes, the clothes are more fabulous than ever, but Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte have misplaced their chic and sassy and become, gulp, too ordinary and desperate. They were never supposed to be like the rest of us.
Still, the women are not anywhere as desperate as the movie itself, which fails its stars and its many obsessive fans, unless everyone was waiting for the AARP version. Writer-director Michael Patrick King, who's been behind the wheel since "Sex's" first stirrings, is clearly driven by love — but baby, sometimes love just ain't enough. When the girls first went big screen in 2008, the film could be forgiven for being such a dreary dud because it was so good to have the gold-plated four pack back. But there's no free lunch for "2," or cosmo for that matter.
The opening suggested such promise, with a whimsical back-to-the-future reminder of who they were in '86 morphing into where they are 20-plus years later. Charlotte ( Kristin Davis), now a mother of two, cries over cupcakes (and by that I mean the Irish nanny who's pinup material as well as the baked goods); Miranda ( Cynthia Nixon) is cowed by her misogynistic boss; Samantha ( Kim Cattrall) suffers a humiliating red carpet run-in with Miley Cyrus, who's wearing exactly the same shimmery mini; and Big (Chris Noth), who used to be the deadliest catch, two years into marriage to Carrie is content to simply watch "Deadliest Catch."
That's left Carrie ( Sarah Jessica Parker) trying to figure out the rules of the 21st century marriage game with Mr. Couch Potato, her gay friends and her girlfriends, which is not nearly as sexy as the Manhattan singles scene. Or, as Samantha might say, being married in the Big Apple bites.
Naturally, it's tougher to keep the veneer from cracking with the gal pals settling into their 40s and, in Samantha's case, very sweaty hot flash 50s. Everything about their lives has become so tame it takes a trip to Abu Dhabi — where canoodling in public is a crime — for any of them to seem outrageous at all.
This being a treatise on marriage, "Sex and the City"-style, the action starts stateside with a gay wedding extravaganza coupling Carrie's GBF (Gay Best Friend, duh) Stanford (Willie Garson) to Charlotte's GBF, Anthony (Mario Cantone) until death, or a state that doesn't recognize gay marriage, do them part. When the question is posed, "Could this wedding get any gayer?" the filmmakers' answer is "yes, Yes, YES!" with a Liza Minnelli capper that, like the rest of the film, sadly shows its age more than its irony.
The ostentatious-all-the-time Abu Dhabi trip comes courtesy of a sheik Samantha met, and this is where the existential — and menopausal — boundary pushing becomes shark-jumping bait. For Charlotte, crisis comes in spotty cellphone coverage; for Samantha, it's libido issues; for Carrie, it's temptation in the form of dreamy Aidan (John Corbett), the former beau making her wonder about her Big commitment. Miranda is left scrambling to shore up this sinking ship.
Since Abu Dhabi does indeed frown on canoodling, much of the film was shot in Morocco. Whether here or there, director of photography John Thomas makes the most of the vapid beauty in the desert with no grain of sand out of place and in the blizzard of that white wedding back home. And, most importantly, the continuous catwalk of designer clothes, with "2" delivering more costume changes than Scheherazade had stories.
King might have done well to borrow from some of those classic Arabian tales. Instead, the script is at its weakest when he takes a stab at burka jokes and the lives of the women confined to them. In general, the film's Muslim sendups fall into two categories: painfully clichéd or cringe-worthy. "Bedouin, Bath & Beyond" is bad enough, but "the real housewives of Abu Dhabi"? Really?
Ironically, the nicest moments — Miranda and Charlotte confessing their parenting woes, Big turning into a very believable homebody, Aidan talking about his three sons — are the least typical of "Sex and the City" fare, yet the most in touch with American midlife realities. Cattrall has the toughest go of it with Samantha too sad and too shrill in her menopausal misery, a pity.
Making the film bearable is Parker, who is at her most relaxed in this latest Carrie incarnation. She's got all the same moves, but the emotional ups and downs are modest and the necessary ministrations from her friends barely required. Which begs the question, why have a sequel at all? Probably best to leave it to the accountants to answer that one.
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