More sex, more city

Sex and the City 2

“Really, it’s that bad?”

“Really, it’s that bad?”

Rated 2.0

Late in the interminable Sex and the City 2, Kristin Davis delivers the movie’s sad epitaph, as Davis’ Charlotte and the rest of the star quartet—Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon)—stand on the steps of their Abu Dhabi hotel waiting to be driven to the airport for their flight home. Instead of the spanking-white limos that brought them in, they are confronted by a pair of battered and Bondo-ed taxicabs. “Oh,” sighs Charlotte, “how the mighty have fallen.”

Oh how, indeed. Like Carrie and her pals in Abu Dhabi, Sex and the City swept onto HBO in 1998 in luxuriously high style. But it’s going out in a crummy little vehicle without dignity and too cramped for its fancy clothes.

Things begin stylishly enough, with the movie’s credits, even the New Line Cinema and HBO logos, crusted with glittery jewels. Carrie, her husband (Chris Noth)—whom she still refers to as “Mr. Big,” even though we now know his name is John J. Preston—and her friends are convening for a gay wedding. In both senses of the word: Carrie’s pal, the perennially single yet hopeful Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) is finally getting married. No tasteful little wedding for Stanford; this one is staged on a set that looks like a gaudy castoff from an unproduced Fred-and-Ginger movie, with an all-male choir singing “If Ever I Would Leave You” and Liza Minnelli presiding at the ceremony, then entertaining at the reception, singing and dancing to some terrible song that you forget even as you’re watching it.

Later, in their hotel room, Carrie and Big try to watch It Happened One Night on TV while, in the rooms on either side, Samantha is having roaring, rattling sex with Stanford’s hunky straight brother, and Charlotte and her husband (Evan Handler) contend with their two screaming daughters. “That was our marriage,” Carrie tells us, “somewhere between wild sex and children.”

The movie eats up some 45 of its 160 minutes before anything like a story begins to take shape. And since most of the friends (even Stanford) are now married, it falls to the commitment-averse Samantha to get things rolling. She meets a sheik from Abu Dhabi who wants to fly her to his luxury hotel to discuss hiring her as a publicist, and she wangles an all-expenses-paid vacation for herself, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte. So the four of them fly off to the United Arab Emirates, where they are ensconced in a $22,000-a-night suite with four personal butlers to cater to their every whim.

Except that Sex and the City 2 was actually filmed in Morocco. What started out in 1998 as a crisp, sassy half-hour TV series set and filmed in Manhattan has somehow morphed into an epic-length movie set in the United Arab Emirates and filmed in northern Africa—after a string of goofy star cameos by Minnelli, Miley Cyrus, Penélope Cruz and others. When did things get so bloated and phony?

Writer-director Michael Patrick King, a veteran of the series who made 2008’s Sex and the City: The Movie, presses his luck this time. With nearly everyone married and no longer dating, he can’t explore the scene, so he changes the scenery. But he never comes up with much of a story, and he covers by falling back on clothes fetishes.

And who knows, it may work with the show’s loyal audience: When King inserts a loving close-up of Carrie’s glistening shoes, the audience’s squeals shook the walls of the theater. Where the show—and even the first movie—was about the hopes and dreams of Carrie and her girlfriends, the new movie is more concerned with the fantasies of their audience.

In King’s script, the dialogue, once a matter of justifiable pride on the show, is tired and forced. Carrie’s narration slips into banality and never struggles free. Even Samantha’s quips have grown lame. Upon seeing the bouncing breasts of a hottie named Erin: “Erin go braless”; meeting a handsome Danish tourist named Rickard Spirit: “So you’re Dick Spurt.”

And where the show was once a bracing comic anthem to female empowerment, this movie degenerates into Parker, Cattrall, Davis and Nixon bawling “I Am Woman” in a karaoke bar.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.