If you’ve ever seen a not-very-good drag queen perform as Barbra or Bette or Cher or Céline, then you know you’re likely to wind up enduring the brittle, overdone, obvious, exaggerated, unfunny, lowest-common-denominator version of your favorite diva.
“Sex and the City 2” is the bad-drag version of the first “Sex and the City” movie.
What was self-consciously funny wordplay becomes “Lawrence of My Labia” in the sequel. What had been a shrewd and glossy fantasy of growing up and settling down in Manhattan has turned into a dreary slog through menopause, screaming babies, and marital dissatisfaction. And what was “as comfortable and as decadent as sitting on the sofa with a big bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough,” as I wrote in my review of the original film, now resembles spending four hours at a real estate seminar in a scratchy fiberglass chair.
Two years older but not necessarily wiser, our foursome returns: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) worries that she’s getting smothered in cozy cocooning with hubby John “Mr. Big” Preston (Chris Noth); Samantha (Kim Cattrall) fights off “the change” with hormones, melatonin patches, and the sage advice of Suzanne Somers; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) finds herself underappreciated by a sexist new boss at her law firm; and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) puts on a happy face despite being frazzled by raising two young daughters—and fearing that her sexy Irish nanny (Alice Eve of “She’s Out of Your League”) will entrance Harry (Evan Handler) with her bodacious décolletage. (She’s seemingly Irish just so the script can make the requisite “Erin-go-braless” joke.)
After a generally pointless prologue at the most overdone gay wedding ever thrown – swans, a showtune-singing chorus, and Liza Minnelli are there to join together the immensely unlikely pairing of Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), who are lucky enough never to be heard from again for the rest of the movie – the ladies take their troubles on the road to Abu Dhabi, where super-publicist Samantha is the guest of a resort–owning sheik.
From the shoes and bags to the cars and jets, “Sex and the City” has always reveled in a certain degree of luxury porn, allowing audiences to vicariously gasp at the overabundant conspicuous consumption. But Abu Dhabi is so colossally indulgent as to seem over-the-top even by the standards of this franchise.
The fact that the Middle East isn’t quite welcoming to independent ladies who like to flash a little skin also makes this major chunk of the movie awkward, even though writer-director Michael Patrick King thinks he’s making some kind of statement by having a hot-flash-suffering Samantha flash her roll of condoms at a group of horrified Arabs or, worse, by making us watch the quartet of leading ladies sing a karaoke version of “I Am Woman.” (There are a few gags about a gay butler at the hotel, but no one talks about how, in strict Muslim nations, women are repressed while gay men are executed.)
One gets the impression that King wanted this sequel to be something akin to the second act of “Into the Woods,” exploring just what happens after “happily ever after.” What he winds up doing, however, is exposing the reactionary heart of this supposedly daring saga. For all the talk about women standing up for themselves and their orgasms, “Sex and the City” has always, at heart, championed monogamy, marriage, and family. Carrie and Big might consider an arrangement where they take a few nights off a week to keep from getting on each other’s nerves, but we know that in the final reel, traditional couplehood will win out.
Still, the first “Sex and the City” movie managed to be entertaining and otherworldly enough to be a fun sit, even if it couldn’t stand up to much scrutiny. This time, however, we’re denied even the pleasure of zippy dialogue and lush surroundings that seem like they leapt from the pages of the thicker, more expensive glossy mags. “Sex and the City 2” delivers clunky jokes, unengaging plot twists and characterizations and, worst of all, it’s ugly to look at. The sweep of the Middle East rarely pops, and even the actresses all get at least one scene each where it appears that they just had a terrible row with the cinematographer.
No one’s expecting “Sex and the City 2” to be anything but a lark, but it can’t even muster the joy of a guilty pleasure. It’s the kind of sequel that makes you embarrassed about having liked the first one.
"Sex and the City 2" is now playing nationwide.
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