'Sex and the City 2': All Sparkle, No Substance

PHOTO Kristin Davis as Charlotte York, Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones and Cynthia Nixon as Miranda Hobbes are shown in a scene from "Sex and the City 2."

"C'mon ... c'mon ... c'mon ..."

So begins "Sex and the City 2," with sweeping shots of the New York City skyline and the all-too-predictable "Empire State of Mind." Apologies to the talented Alicia Keys, but in the context of the movie, her breathy chant brings to mind the throaty grunt of a woman trying to zip up a too-tight dress.

She can "c'mon" all she wants. It's just not going to happen.

The allure of "Sex and the City" faded when the HBO series ended in 2004. While the gals trotted onto the big screen in 2008, dripping in couture creations and painting the town glitter, sharp writing, character development and off-the-beaten-path plot lines didn't make it into their Birkin bags.

VIDEO: Sex and the City 2 is analyzed in this short spoof,
Funny Side of 'Sex and the City 2'

This time around, too, it's all spectacle, no substance. Sure, there's Chanel, there's Dior, there's Galliano. There's upper crust Manhattan and exotic Abu Dhabi. There's over-the-top opulence oozing out of this thing like bubbly out of a just-popped Dom Perignon. For "Sex and the City" fans craving the lifestyle of Carrie and company, the movie boasts enough eye candy to last through the winter.

But the story's lacking. It starts with the wedding of the best gay buddies of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis). Never mind that Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) played arch enemies for most of the TV series -- their vows allow the girls to mull about marriage while watching Liza Minelli's desperate rendition of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." (Desperate because, she is, after all, Liza -- witnessing the grand dame of divas impersonate a disciple decades her junior is just depressing.)

Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is wedded to her war against menopause, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is thinking about divorcing her job, Charlotte is weighed down by two young children and Carrie, well, Carrie is Carrie. She's not happy. Though she landed the elusive Big (Chris Noth), even with him, married life is mundane. Not content to eat takeout on the couch and fall asleep to reality TV, she jumps at the chance to escape when Samantha asks the crew to come along on a publicity trip to a luxurious Abu Dhabi resort, all expenses paid thanks to a potential new client, an Arab sheik.

Maybe they should have stayed in Manhattan. The movie's treatment of the Middle East is off-putting, from Samantha's lack of regard for Muslim mores (she ends up in a souk ranting and raving about condoms) to jokes about female head coverings (Carrie marvels at a woman in a burka eating french fries) to the foursome's inability to adapt to another culture (they don four-figure-fitting outfits to ride camels and attempt to walk on sand dunes in stilettos) to the almost sickeningly extravagant retreat (they stay in a $22,000 per night suite, equipped with four butlers and four Maybachs).

Yes, "Sex and the City" has always tried to push the envelope. But it's sad that the franchise that broke ground with frank, honest talk about sex and relationships has had to resort to politically questionable puns and camel-toe cracks to get laughs.

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