May 27, 2010

Sex and the City 2

star

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Sex and the City 2

COMEDY/DRAMA:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-05-27

Running Length:

2:25

MPAA Classification:

R (Sexual Content, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, Evan Handler, John Corbett

Director:

Michael Patrick King

Screenplay:

Michael Patrick King

Cinematography:

John Thomas

U.S. Distributor:

New Line Cinema

Subtitles:

none


"Movies for fans" (as distinguished from "fan-made movies") - motion pictures targeted primarily at aficionados of a series and secondarily at the public - have been around for decades, but never has one been as openly dismissive of the general movie-going population as Sex and the City 2. There is little doubt that fans of the TV and cinematic franchise will adore what has been laid before them, but it's hard to imagine that anyone not self-identifying as a Sex and the City adherent will find this first sequel tolerable. It has no plot to speak of, little in the way of wit or intelligence, and is about 50% longer than can reasonably be justified. Sex and the City 2 is all set-up with no pay-off. It's bad soap opera, and every time it comes close to addressing an interesting issue - such as how the reality of a marriage differs from the idealized preconception of one - it quickly backtracks, apologizing along the way for getting serious. Fans will bathe in this sewer of materialistic excess because they appreciate any opportunity to spend time with their favorite characters. Everyone else will stare at the screen in a state of enhanced boredom if the sheer tedium of watching this production doesn't shut down the brain altogether.

This review is not meant for fans; those who bother to read it will likely bombard me with poison pen e-mails. Having been a fan myself (albeit not of Sex and the City), I understand the circle-the-wagons mentality. Never before, however, either looking from without or within the fan sphere, have I encountered a movie so contemptuous of those who aren't part of the "in" crowd. Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight... the list goes on, and none of those franchises turned its back so completely on outsiders. Even the first Sex and the City movie wasn't this divisive.

The most grotesque aspect of Sex and the City remains the central characters, all four of whom (to varying degrees) are obsessed with the trappings of wealth. They exist to consume. It's a three-ring circus of materialism, narcissism, and entitlement. These people are self-absorbed to the point where, unless you built a relationship with them during their television days, it's impossible to like them. The filmmakers not only sympathize with them, but laud their avarice and obsession with possessions. Sex and the City 2 is overloaded with product placements (all high-end, of course) and wallows in a cultural cesspool that some will find offensive. (A similar problem that existed for Confessions of a Shopaholic.) What other movie spends five minutes providing a tour of an exclusive hotel suite? The fan argument is that this is all fantasy, but not every fantasy is healthy, and a plausible argument can be made that the one proffered by Sex and the City 2 crosses a line.

The film opens by re-introducing us to the Sex and the City foursome two years after the end of their previous movie. They haven't moved on - little ever really changes in their hermetically sealed bubble. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is finding wedded bliss with Mr. Big (Chris Noth) to be less than what she expected. He would rather lounge at home on the couch watching TV or reading the newspaper while she would prefer to dress up in costumes designed for women at least ten years younger and paint the town red. When he suggests they spend two days a week apart (as a way to make their five days of togetherness more tolerable), she is crushed. Samantha (Kim Cattrall), now well into her 50s but acting like she's in her 30s, continues to live the life of a single libertine, engaging in frequent sex with younger men while embracing hormone therapy as a way to mute the undesirable side-effects of menopause. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is finding the parenting of two young girls - one of whom won't stop crying - to be bordering on impossible. The situation becomes worse when she notices her husband (Evan Handler) paying undue attention to the attractive nanny (Alice Eve) who never wears a bra. Finally, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) quits her job as a top-flight attorney when she believes the new senior partner is being dismissive and insulting. After spending the film's first half moping around New York City, the quartet embarks on a one-week vacation to Abu Dhabi, where the action continues at the same sluggish pace.

It's astounding how a movie this long could accomplish so little. Sex and the City 2 could qualify as fashion porn - there are endless images of dresses, shoes, jewelry, and so forth - and plenty of shopping spree money shots. There are times when director Michael Patrick King's cameras linger on the wardrobe and accessories rather than on the actors, establishing clearly (as if there was ever a doubt) where his preferences lie. His shot selection is basic - the kind of thing one expects on a television sit-com but not in a movie theater.

I have had enough exposure to the HBO series to recognize that one of the hallmarks of the TV program was its wit and freshness. Given a 30-minute time limit, scripts were crisp and funny. With all time constraints removed, Sex and the City 2 has turned into a bloated aberration. Barely enough content exists in the 145-minute movie for perhaps two mediocre half-hour episodes; there's more filler here than in a can of bargain brand cat food. It's sad to acknowledge that the most energetic sequence in the movie occurs when Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte perform a karaoke rendition of "I am Woman."

The first Sex and the City movie was marginally watchable. There was a narrative line, the characters weren't consistently reprehensible, and the humor wasn't quite as forced. Sex and the City 2 has taken all that was bad about its predecessor and amplified it. In many movie series, the second film is the best; if that's the case for this one, I shudder to think what might be next. When it comes to the bottom line, there's no difficulty determining who should see Sex and the City 2. Individuals deeply invested in the characters and/or the culture they represent will find something to like about the movie. Others, especially heterosexual males who aren't trying to win points with a wife/girlfriend, will do better following Mr. Big's example and staying home to watch It Happened One Night, although even changing diapers and scouring the toilets would offer a cleaner and more rewarding 2 1/2 hours.

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