Sex and the City 2 (R)
1 1/2 stars out of 4
Advising adult women not to go see "Sex and the City 2" because it is bad would be as equally pointless and futile as telling 14-year-old boys to avoid a "Transformers" sequel. These are franchises with pointedly specific target audiences and are, for the most part, critic-proof.
Keeping in lockstep with the garish overkill and epic running length (147 minutes) of its predecessor, "SATC2" bears only a passing resemblance to the razor-sharp HBO series that spawned it. Thanks to superbly concise writing, a truncated, episodic format and a (relatively) restrained emphasis on the material world, the series was able to offer appeal beyond women and gay men. As all the leads make clear in the first scene, that is not the mission of the movies.
Opening with a Busby Berkeley-inspired gay wedding (officiated by Liza Minnelli as herself), the movie certainly leaves the gate with an interesting premise.
Two years into their marriage, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mr. Big (Chris Noth) are slipping into the doldrums. He's content to be a couch potato ordering take-out and she wants to remain a social butterfly. Now the mother of two girls, the always easily-rattled Charlotte (Kristin Davis) can't get through a day without a tear-drenched meltdown. She's also sure her buxom and braless Irish nanny Erin (Alice Eve) will steal away her nebbish husband Harry (Evan Handler). Remaining essentially the same is the sexually reckless Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and the control-freak attorney Miranda (Cynthia Nixon).
For a solid hour, the four women bemoan their various states of existence and it starts to become clear that what was once quirky, risque and quasi-charming on the tube has morphed into something supremely irritating, whiny and seedy. These ladies were always devout narcissists, and with the exception of the still single Samantha, each seems at least somewhat disenchanted with domesticated coupling and the often tedious routine that accompanies it.
Still not halfway through the proceedings, returning writer/director Michael Patrick King then does the unthinkable and unforgivable: he abandons the unofficial fifth lead (New York City) in favor of Abu Dhabi. As any fan of the show and/or the first movie knows, New York is a key ingredient to the entire "SATC" concept. Yes, Abu Dhabi is a city and more or less matches the glitz and glamour of Manhattan, but it's just not the same.
Now effectively a Hope and Crosby road flick, "SATC2" becomes nothing more than an excuse for King's set and costume designers to go hog wild and in the process they give new meaning to the words "ostentatious" and "excessive." While frequently dazzling and always beautifully framed, King's film is decedent airhead praise and adoration of shallow materialism. Very few people in the real world live or behave like this, and rather than the desired escapism, it all reeks of gaudy fiscal irresponsibility and only serves as a reminder to the audience of things they'll never have and places they'll never visit.
None of this would matter if King's screenplay was halfway decent, grounded in something close to reality or remotely witty. Although he delivers a handful of clever puns and the occasional successful double entendre, most of King's jokes ring hallow and his dialogue is vapid.
Noth's Big is the only character afforded the luxury of consistently relatable and intelligent material and if producers Parker and Darren Star (also the creator) were smart, the next project on their slate would be a prequel focusing on the early life of Mr. Big. That would bring in droves of new followers.
Based on the largely positive reaction of the invitation-only, mostly well-to-do audience members at the press screening, there's no reason to believe this sequel won't match or even exceed the nearly quarter billion dollar worldwide take of the first. The Middle Eastern setting of the second half might even triple the foreign box office.
King might not show much acumen as a filmmaker or storyteller but he certainly knows what his audience wants and is nothing if not a savvy marketer. (New Line)