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Published: Friday, 5/28/2010

Movie review: ‘Sex and the City 2' has style over substance

Sex and the City 2 is so over-the-top ridiculous, it plays like a parody of what a sequel to the 2008 hit movie would be. You can just imagine how the brainstorming sessions might have gone:

"I know, let's send the ladies to Abu Dhabi! We can dress them in outrageous costumes and put them on camels in the middle of the desert and Charlotte can search frantically for a cell-phone signal! Carrie can wear some oversized hat, and Samantha can shock all the Arab men with her signature brand of in-your-face sexuality! And Miranda ... well, we'll find something for her to do."

"Of course, we'll have to play Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' ‘Empire State of Mind' at some point. I mean, it's so obvious — people will be expecting it."

"Doing it right off the top, over the opening titles."

"Perfect. But wait, we need to include Liza Minnelli somehow. Surely we can't ship her out to the Middle East ..."

"How about this: We stage a gay wedding, and not only will Liza officiate the ceremony, she'll also sing Beyonce's ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)' and do the dance."

"Genius!" (High five!)

Minnelli does indeed sing the song and do the dance, and it's so painful to watch, it will make you want to scratch your eyes out of your head.

It's a perfect example of so much that goes wrong with Sex and the City 2: It's self-indulgent, way too long, and never as clever or funny as it's intended to be.

Writer-director Michael Patrick King found a balance of substance and style with the long-running, hugely popular HBO series. Even the original Sex and the City movie, for all its fashionable splashiness, still managed to be about something: the way the characters adapted as they morphed from single party girls into women building families for themselves. (Except for Samantha, of course, who's always been on the prowl, despite having a more serious boyfriend from time to time.)

But the sequel too often feels like a series of lavish set pieces with sporadic discussions about careers, marriage, and babies in between (although one of those talks, between Charlotte and Miranda about the realities of motherhood, is the purest moment in the movie).

Much of the shtick has long since gotten old. Carrie's running voiceover, the structural thread all along, feels intrusive and pat. Charlotte's cutesy prudishness seems an ill fit on a married mother of two. And Samantha's corny puns reach a new low.

For fans of the show, though, the comfort of the familiarity will still be a huge draw — seeing Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, who's also a producer), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) on the big screen again. But the story simply isn't there, even with a running time of nearly two and a half hours. (Yes, you read that right.)

Carrie and Big (Chris Noth) have been married for two years now, and they're trying to avoid falling into staid domesticity. Miranda, married to Steve (David Eigenberg) with a son in Brooklyn, has a jerk of a new boss who's making her miserable at the law firm. Charlotte has a comfortable life with husband Harry (Evan Handler) but she's finding being a mother isn't as idyllic as she'd dreamed. And Samantha is trying to fight off menopause by swallowing handfuls of vitamins every day.

But she also gets a gig doing PR for a luxurious resort in Abu Dhabi, so naturally she invites her girlfriends along for the adventure. This is basically an excuse to dress the foursome in exquisite jewel tones (the work of the famous costume designer Patricia Field, as always) and trot them through upscale hotel rooms, restaurants, and bars.

(Saying much more would give away spoilers. Let's just say some characters make decisions that are so needlessly self-destructive, they're infuriating.)

Even though it's supposed to be a fantasy, all this excess clangs — given the current economic climate — making these women seem out of reach and out of touch. A throwaway line about how Carrie couldn't sell her old apartment feels inadequate: She still owns it, and it's still crammed with a healthy amount of her expensive wardrobe — at least the dresses, shoes, and handbags she hasn't moved into the tony Upper East Side apartment she shares with Big.

The couple does have a serious discussion one night, though, about the kind of marriage they'd like to have. It's a rare moment that comes close to achieving honesty. But then Carrie keeps messing distractingly with her black evening gown the whole time — and so style wins out after all.



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