Over six seasons on HBO, Sex And The City at the very least deserves credit for developing four distinct, memorable female characters drawn sharply enough that fans actually identify themselves as “a Carrie” or “a Miranda.” Sex And The City 2 panders to that audience to the point of self-destruction, squandering whatever goodwill the franchise had left after the first so-so movie by plopping its beloved characters into a series of garish vignettes that throw their shallowness into sharp relief. By the point where proud, menopausal jezebel Samantha stands shrieking in the middle of a Middle Eastern marketplace while waving magnum condoms and flipping off hijab-clad Muslims on their way to prayer, it’s inconceivable that anyone would want to even be in the presence of “a Samantha,” much less be one.
The film reaches that nadir after a meandering two-plus hours that purport, just like the first movie, to show what happens “after happily ever after.” SATC2’s first half is structured more around fan service than plot: A gratuitous ’80s flashback montage blurs into an over-the-top wedding between the series’ two gay characters (complete with an embarrassing-for-all-involved Liza Minnelli performance), which melts into a red-carpet sequence rife with couture and celebrity cameos. Amid the eye candy, each character’s conflict is perfunctorily addressed: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) has lost the “sparkle” from her marriage; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is having trouble balancing work and family; Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) kids are driving her crazy; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is battling menopause. Rather than dealing with these issues like real human beings, the four jet off on a ludicrously extravagant vacation to Abu Dhabi, and the movie completely unravels into a pastiche of wish-fulfillment, slapstick, and ham-handed social commentary.
The characters’ engagement with Muslim culture is lazily conceived and often painful to watch, as when Parker gawps at a woman eating french fries under her veil, or Cattrall fellates a hookah pipe. The movie justifies these moments with a pro-female message that goes no further than acknowledging that all women, regardless of culture, love fashion and enjoy karaoke sing-alongs of “I Am Woman.” Similarly, the movie’s attempts to downplay its unbridled opulence with throwaway lines addressing the poor housing market and “this bullshit economy” are insulting rather than ingratiating. Even the crackerjack quippery that was once a Sex And The City hallmark has become so lazy that observations as hoary as “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” and “Erin go braless” make the cut.
SATC2 occasionally redeems itself with a small character moment or interaction that hearkens back to the aspirational everywoman appeal that was the television show’s foundation, but there isn’t nearly enough of it to support the mounds of toxic froth piled atop it. Without any real emotional center, SATC2 collapses under the weight of its embellishments.