All good things must come to an end, and the fab foursome’s reign has finally sputtered out in this embarrassing, hard-to-watch sequel that for some inexplicable reason, leaves “the City” out of Sex and the City.
It pains me to write this review. It really does. Because I adored Sex and the City for its entire ninety-four episode run on HBO, and also was extraordinarily happy with the franchise’s first feature film in the summer of 2008. I had high expectations for the sequel after its trailers seemed to serve up more of the flighty, frivolous fun I’d come to know and love over the years. And I actually enjoyed Sex and the City 2 for the first 70% or so of its running time. But then, unfortunately, its ridiculousness was taken to such an extreme level that I left the theater with an awful feeling that made me wish I’d never witnessed any part of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda’s ongoing exploits.
From the previews, I’d assumed the girls-only jaunt the four friends take to the Middle East would be a relatively short segment in the film. Um, no. It was pretty much the entire movie. Which begs the question: Why take the ladies out of Manhattan at all? In the series, New York City was a character in its own right. Sure, the first film whisked the women off to Mexico for Carrie’s non-Honeymoon, but that was a very small piece of the overall story. In SATC2, Abu Dhabi (played by Morocco) was center stage. And while it was fun to see the decadent palace-hotels and expansive landscapes and the wispy, flowy fashion inspired by the region, the focus soon settled on how far Samantha could push her penchant for plunging necklines and sexual innuendos in the notoriously conservative, Islamic country.
Which brings us to why the characters jetted off to a foreign land in the first place. The action begins in the City That Never Sleeps, two years after the events of the first film. Carrie and Big are married and living in their crazy-swank apartment, but Big is, uh, normal, and would like to just order in and watch movies in bed every now and again. Carrie, however, thinks this is a bad sign — that they’ve “lost their sparkle” — and that they should instead be running around the city for dinner every night, attending movie premieres, and living out her version of a glamorous, fabulous life. Big’s like, “Really? I kinda just want to rest on the couch.” But Carrie cannot abide such a mundane existence! She needs to be constantly reminded of how awesome she is!
Elsewhere in Manhattan, Charlotte is realizing that having two young daughters is hard. Especially when they do things like ruin the designer skirt that she was wearing while making cupcakes — which, of course, was an exceedingly smart and practical idea to begin with. She’s also got a bouncy Irish nanny to worry about. Miranda is still a powerful attorney, but has a new superior at work who is making her life a living hell. So much so that she finally can take it no more… and quits without another gig lined up. Samantha remains a sought-after PR guru, but is fully and completely obsessed with looking good and feeling even better. She’s hooked to a cocktail of hormones, lotions and potions that she claims will turn back the clock and keep her libido at its regular, abnormally high level.
Samantha is reunited with Smith for the debut of his latest film, which was shot in the United Arab Emirates. That’s how Samantha comes to meet the sheikh who financed the film, who also wants Samantha to come to his exotic land and help him promote his hotel. She says she’ll only do it if her three besties can come along, and he’s all, “Sure, why not? I’m a sheikh! I can afford it!”
So the ladies head east on the sheikh’s luxury airline, and they’ve barely spent any time roaming around the city’s bustling spice market in hideously inappropriate outfits before Carrie spies her old flame, Aidan, bartering for rugs. Although Charlotte warns her friend that she’s “playing with fire” if she agrees to a dinner date with her ex-fiancé, Carrie is apparently so desperate for male attention that she gets all gussied up for the occasion, despite the fact that she knows her husband would flip out if he learned she was noshing with the dude he once had a knock-out, drag-down fight in the mud with.
I actually would’ve been OK with all of the above if writer/director Michael Patrick King just left things at a carefree, lighthearted level. The series had always been about escapism, and was at its best when it revolved around the unshakable bond between friends, the gossip about their love lives, and of course, their enviable fashion sense. Though there were a few truly memorable and touching moments — including a heart-to-heart between Charlotte and Miranda about the realities of motherhood — by and large it seemed that the sequel was trying to make a misguided “statement” about the restrictive Muslim culture in Abu Dhabi. King proceeded to use Miranda as some sort of talking head (she was constantly shouting out “surprising facts” about the region after devouring several travel guides on the flight), while Samantha offended locals and disrespected customs left and right. I don’t consider myself the most politically correct person on the planet, but even I was horrified. The film’s climactic sequence — which brought the girls back to the spice market and involved Samantha dropping condoms all over the place — was nearly unbearable to watch. All I could think was, “Aren’t these women supposed to be sophisticated New Yorkers?” Instead, they came off as the stereotypical Ugly Americans. And there’s absolutely nothing fabulous about that.