Just like the famous Carrie Bradshaw spends most of "Sex and the City 2" trying to recapture the sparkle in her aging relationship with Mr. Big, so the film spends its two-and-a-half hour runtime trying to reclaim the za za zu of the HBO series. That dialogue that felt so fresh in 1998 is now as tired as a mom with two kids. The characters you knew and loved have (metaphorical) bags under their eyes to match the sagging lines they have to deliver. The show was always more fantasy than reality, as a New York City writer without an Upper East Side apartment or (gasp!) a single pair of Manolo Blahniks can attest. Most women could find more that resembles reality in Mordor than in the Manhattan lives of these ladies who brunch.
'SATC2' finds Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) has been married to Big (Chris Noth) for almost two years, and the man she spent a decade trying to tie down is now too settled and pouts when he has to leave the couch to go to a movie premiere. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is now a stay-at-home mother of two, overwhelmed by her daughter's disastrous trip through the terrible twos and the inability of her hot nanny (Alice Eve, "She's Out of My League") to wear a bra. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) continues to struggle with balancing her life as a law firm partner, a wife to Steve (David Eigenberg), and a mother to Brady. Meanwhile, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) fights a valiant battle against time, ingesting hormones in an attempt to stave off menopause (and retain her legendary sex drive).
Everyone needs a change, so when Samantha is offered a free trip to Abu Dhabi, she and the ladies take off to the Middle East (with far grander amenities than Nermal, if it needs to be said). Their sheikh-sponsored trip makes their already lavish New York life look positively poverty-stricken, but the city seduces them with more than just butlers, massages, and a palatial suite. As anyone who's seen the trailer knows, Carrie's ex-fiance Aidan (John Corbett) shows up in the middle of a market, and she sees it as a sign, particularly in the midst of her trouble with Big.
Following the exact same formula as the first film (wedding + exotic location + colorful clothes), "Sex and the City 2" actually just feels like an overgrown, sweeps-month episode of the show -- but with bad writing. The lavish nuptials of Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) fulfills the first requirement, while casting Liza Minelli as the ceremony's officiant (and entertainment) adheres to the model of celebrity guest stars. The tried-and-true ratings grab of bringing back beloved characters (Corbett's Aidan and Jason Lewis's Smith Jerrod) will likely work just as well for the box office as it does for the Nielsen ratings.
Though the plot seems tailored more for box-office bulk than narrative grace, the film's biggest problem is its dialogue. The actors throw off the cheesiest of lines and then laugh at their own jokes, almost serving as a laugh track to tell us that something is worth a giggle. The show often deftly balanced truly funny, often bawdy jokes with wry insight into modern dating, but the movie just uses bad puns and cheesy lines.
A score from Aaron Zigman encrusted with strings and embellished with world music elements adds to the supposed glamour, but it's the soundtrack that seems most off. How many times can one film use Jay-Z's neo-anthem "Empire State of Mind"? A karaoke scene where the ladies indulge in a heavy-handed rendition of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" goes on forever and only adds to the film's dated feeling, despite its gay wedding and of-the-moment fashions.
"Sex and the City" has always been about excess, and this sequel to the 2008 hit film is no exception. From the glittery New Line logo that opens the film to its greedy running time, "Sex and the City 2" doesn't know when to stop. The movie has more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga tour, and costume designer Patricia Field doesn't hesitate to show off more clothes than most people would wear in a decade. The show's cultural impact has been on more than just relationships and even third-wave feminism; there's been an obvious effect on fashion, but it's more than just clothes and the highly prized shoes. Consumerism is king, and its prominence here doesn't make the film seem like an escapist fantasy. When the women's biggest concern is flying home in coach to their luxury apartments filled with designer clothes, it's just silly and borderline insulting.
The film somehow improves as it goes along, packing its most of its best moments into its final third. A drunken, unflinchingly honest interaction between the two mothers Charlotte and Miranda stands out; while the rest of the film is about surface and sheen, there's a brief, raw honesty in the scene. For once, it doesn't seem to be about who they're wearing, it's about who they are. [D+]