So even if "Sex and the City 2" consisted of nothing but a two-and-a-half hour fashion show, it would draw crowds. But it also has the returning cast members in fine comic form, and it has more cutting-edge humor than the first movie. Critics will carp about the platitudes in the script and about the longueurs in the nearly 2 1/2-hour opus, but for the core audience, there will be no complaints about too much of a good thing. This picture is going to be a smash.
Some of us who enjoyed the outrageous antics showcased in the HBO series created by Darren Star and executed in later years by Michael Patrick King (the writer-director of both films) found the first movie disappointingly bland. Instead of the bracing emphasis on sex, the focus shifted to less scintillating folderol about marriage. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) was jilted at the altar by her true love, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), but snared him in the end. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) also faced a crisis in her marriage but ended up in a clinch with hubby Steve (David Eigenberg). The new movie begins two years later at a wedding -- a gay wedding (in Connecticut). But though the two grooms are pledging their devotion, the gals are learning that marital bliss is more elusive than the first movie implied.
Carrie and Big find themselves at odds over an issue that bedevils many couples: She loves to go out on the town, and he turns out to be a closet TV addict who wants to do nothing more than curl up on the couch watching old movies. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) has achieved her dream life with two children, but the tots turn out to be maddening rather than adorable. Only Samantha (the consistently irresistible Kim Cattrall) remains defiantly single, waging her own personal war against menopause.
These wan domestic squabbles are merely prelude to the movie's major plot development. Samantha is approached by an Arab sheik to devise a PR campaign for his business enterprises, and he offers to fly her and her three gal pals on an all-expenses-paid luxury vacation to Abu Dhabi. (These scenes were filmed in Morocco.) Even in an escapist fantasy, the spectacle of women sinking into this billionaire's paradise at a time of widespread economic hardship initially seems creepy and off-putting. Soon, however, their Arab sojourn takes unexpected turns. First of all, Carrie encounters her old flame, Aidan (John Corbett), at the spice market, but even more importantly, she and her friends run up against the puritanical and misogynistic culture of the Middle East. The rather scathing portrayal of Muslim society no doubt will stir controversy, especially in a frothy summer entertainment, but there's something bracing about the film's saucy political incorrectness. Or is it politically correct? "SATC 2" is at once proudly feminist and blatantly anti-Muslim, which means that it might confound liberal viewers.
Indicative of the film's contradictory stance is a scene in which the ladies perform a karaoke version of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" in an Abu Dhabi nightclub. An equally outrageous moment comes when the interlopers are rescued by a bunch of Muslim women who strip off their black robes to reveal the stylish Western outfits they are concealing beneath their discreet garb. These endearingly loopy scenes exhibit the tasteless humor that enlivened the TV series on its best nights.
King's script isn't always well-balanced. Carrie's minor marital problems are given way too much attention, whereas the intriguing dilemmas of Miranda and Charlotte are downplayed. Nixon and Davis do, however, share one marvelous scene in which they vent their dissatisfactions with motherhood. It also is a pleasure to see Cattrall flaunt her sexual imperatives in front of her Arab hosts. Noth and Corbett are so appealing that we can sympathize with Carrie's romantic confusion. Liza Minnelli, Miley Cyrus and Penelope Cruz show up for amusing cameos.
Technical credits are first-rate. Cinematographer John Thomas and production designer Jeremy Conway make the most of the exotic locations. Costume designer Patricia Field's outlandish creations will send many viewers to hog heaven. But it's hard to know what King and editor Michael Berenbaum were smoking when they let the film drag on at least 40 minutes too long. Even with its excesses, Carrie and company's excellent Arabian adventure will leave viewers thinking and arguing as well as swooning over the digs and the rags.
Opens: Thursday, May 27 (Warner Bros.)
Production: New Line, HBO, Village Roadshow Pictures
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, John Corbett, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Willie Garson, Mario Cantone
Director-screenwriter: Michael Patrick King
Producers: Sarah Jessica Parker, Darren Star, John Melfi, Michael Patrick King
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Marcus Viscidi
Director of photography: John Thomas
Production designer: Jeremy Conway
Music: Aaron Zigman
Costume designer: Patricia Field
Editor: Michael Berenbaum
Rated R, 146 minutes
– The Hollywood Reporter