Review: Sex and the City 2

'Sex and the City 2'
'Sex and the City 2'

In a word: dreadful. In another word: excruciating.

I entered the theater with an open mind. I’d watched some of the original series more out of inertia than anything else; it came on after The Sopranos and I was too lazy to change the channel. The first movie held no interest for me, but the sequel was intriguing. Was it possible to make a comedy that appeared to extol luxury and the finer things in life when the country (and much of the world) is facing  a financial meltdown?

After all, the Great Depression comforted millions, we are told, by depicting the lives and loves of the rich and famous, creating a fantasy world where the impoverished could get away from their troubles for a couple of hours — assuming, that is, they could afford the price of a ticket. And don’t women deserve strong role models, since male-dominated society has oppressed them with their own masculine fantasies?

I’m all for fantasy, and if Sex and the City 2 had managed to make me forget all my troubles through clever dialog, witty wisecracks, and endearing characters, I’m sure the 146-minute running time would have flown by. As it is, the film begins clumsily and never develops any kind of narrative rhythm. It looks awful — like a cheap TV show in the pre-high definition age, blown up to obscene proportions — and lacks any grace or subtlety in its storytelling.

To call what’s on display “storytelling,” in fact, is insulting to all the true, gifted storytellers in the world. Written, produced, and directed by Michael Paul King, the film lurches from one scene to the next like a drunken horse. All the beloved characters have returned, but they appear to have been shot up with happy juice, smiling for the camera while calculating the interest on their paycheck, no doubt.

For all the insistence that these are strong women, and that men are simply afraid of strong women, Sex and the City 2 provides no evidence that it exists in the current century. Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) has married her longtime love Mr. Big (Chris Noth, painfully self-conscious) and settled into an existence that is too comfortable for her liking. After two years, Mr. Big has the temerity to buy a television for the bedroom as an anniversary present for her! How dare he! It might be shocking if it hadn’t been a stock item of complaint 50 years ago. “Girls, can you believe he bought me a vacuum / dishwasher / non-piece of jewelry for our anniversary?” “Well, I never…” and so forth.

The quips, as always, are thinly-veiled double entenderes included for their “shock” value more than anything else, as though any adult would really blush nowadays at a foul-talking man or woman. No stereotypical stone goes unturned, as a brainless nanny with large breasts (Alice Eve) goes braless, something the equally brainless Charlotte (Kristin Davis) has never noticed until Samantha (Kim Cattrell) points it out. Samantha is proud to be 52 and still as promiscuous as any horndog man; much is made of her taking dozens of pills to stave off the effects of aging.

Meanwhile, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) rattles off information gleaned from guide books when the girls visit Abu Dhabi, which might as well be renamed Arabic Fantasy Country. The supposedly strong women embarrass themselves with their ignorance of Arabic culture, but then I guess they were always too busy shopping and writing and lawyering and publicizing to ever, you know, pick up a newspaper or surf the Internet or listen when other people are talking.

About the only good thing I can say about the movie is that the air-conditioning in the theater was working at the advance screening. Thank you, AMC Northpark.

[Sex and the City 2 opens wide today in Dallas.]