"Sex and the City 2" is a ghastly mess, a stake in the heart of the great TV series that ran from 1998 to 2004. This second "SATC" movie (I liked the first one) is misconceived on every level. Consider:
1. After opening with the usual helicopter footage of New York skyscrapers (Look, there's the Chrysler Building!), this very long picture decamps for what seems like half an hour to a gay wedding in Connecticut, complete with glittery male choir and a Liza Minnelli (!) dance number, which nearly sinks the film on its own. It then decamps even farther to Abu Dhabi, of all places, where there's no sex and, for the story's purposes, no city either. This is where most of the movie takes place.
2. Whereas the old TV series pioneered a mature new female candor about sex and relationships, this movie gives ample screen time to a busty young nanny who's shown cavorting with kids in a park while her breasts leap around inside her blouse with a life of their own. Later we see her chest accidentally sprayed with water, which turns that scene into a one-girl wet T-shirt contest.
3. To balance things out, we also meet a group of young hunks at a swimming pool and are given close-up crotch shots of their bulging Speedos. Later there's a hunky Danish architect and a lingering close-up of his crotch in all of its protruding tumescence. This character has naturally caught the eye of our gal Samantha (Kim Cattrall), still ravenously randy at the age of 52. She asks his name. It's Richard Spirtz. She decides to just call him Dick.
4. The writing, which was one of the glories of the TV series, sharp and pungent, is here abysmally juvenile. Samantha, upon learning that a World Cup soccer team has arrived on the scene: "Did they bring their balls?" And later, spotting a hot guy in the desert: "Lawrence of my labia!" At one point someone actually says, "Abu Dhabi do!"
No movie this boldly brainless should be set in an Islamic city — even one as famously Westernized as Abu Dhabi. After Samantha, who's been recruited to do PR for a local luxury hotel, arrives on the scene with her pals Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), we soon see them swanning around in their usual wildly inappropriate clothing (they seem to don garish new outfits every five minutes) and — in one of the film's many preposterous sequences — breaking out in a karaoke rendition of "I Am Woman" at a hotel nightclub while the other women in the audience — some of them Arab — cheer and sing along.
Since the position of women in traditional Islamic societies is famously, shall we say, constricted, there are issues to be dealt with here that are beyond the grasp of bubble-headed comedy. Miranda grows momentarily irate at the sight of so many Arab women wearing face-covering niqabs, but she can only respond with a very feminist cliché: "Some men really don't like strong women!" (As if she and they were victims of the same oppression.) We also briefly note that upon checking into the hotel, Charlotte drops her married name, Goldenblatt, in favor of her more goyish maiden name. This issue, too, is quickly shooed away.
Why writer/director Michael Patrick King felt compelled to take the "SATC" girls out of glamorous Manhattan and deposit them in the arid Middle East is baffling. The sleek elegance of their native turf was always part of the old series' fun. Abu Dhabi, with its golden domes and gaudy chandeliers and $22,000-a-night hotel suites, makes Miami look like Geneva by comparison. And Carrie and company are no longer footloose 30-somethings in the American city of dreams. They're now 40-somethings (and more, in the case of the loudly menopausal Samantha), and most of them are married, and feeling stifled. The high spirits that once drew us to them are long gone. Possibly King realized that the franchise was near-dead anyway, and awaited only the coup de grâce. This movie should provide it.
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