Mood swings similar to those experienced by menopausal Samantha are a common side effect of exposure to Sex and the City 2. Two and a half hours (!) spent in the company of fortysomething Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis), and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and fiftysomething Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) takes a toll: The experience of listening to the girls complain about their fairy-tale lives from the comfort of an all-expenses-paid luxury vacation in the Arabian desert may leave a viewer feeling by turns nostalgic, disoriented, and impatient.
Don't worry. This is a normal response to revisiting an essence-of-1990s-NYC experience and seeing it through 2010 eyes. And it's a natural reaction given that, in turning the blinged-out foursome into garish caricatures of their already outlandish selves, it seems the producers are just not that into us.
Once upon a time, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha represented an extravagant (white) fantasy of sophisticated city-that-never-sleeps sisterhood. They were Manolo'd ambassadors from a world of Manhattan glamour and cosmos who, underneath their finery, were recognizable as real types of women in an American urban world. Now? Well, the friends still look porelessly fine. And I'm delighted that, in an antidote to recession frugality, their wardrobe budget hasn't taken a hit. But in SATC2, whether the topic is gay marriage discussed at the over-the-top wedding of Carrie's Best Gay Friend (Willie Garson) to Charlotte's own BGF (Mario Cantone), or gender roles in the complicated United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi explored on a camel, the conversation has been reduced to a string of quips. ''It's Bedouin, Bath & Beyond!'' Carrie chirps about amenities in a luxurious desert oasis. ''Lawrence of my labia!'' Samantha purrs ewww! about an attractive man observed driving across the dunes. Writer-director Michael Patrick King compulsively jams pun after groaner pun into the script, tipping the ladies' lifestyles and life issues perilously into cartoon territory done better by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley on BBC's Absolutely Fabulous.
Three of the four have uninteresting but reasonable problems: Charlotte is upset that motherhood is hard; Miranda is upset that she's unappreciated at work; Samantha is upset that she can't outrun menopause. The fourth takes the cupcake: Carrie is upset because she's got everything, including marriage to Big (Chris Noth), a new book, and a humongous closet, and now she's... what? Spoiled and bored, we can't help but think. (''Is this because I'm a bitch wife who nags you?'' Carrie wheedles when Big asks for some space; at the screening I attended, the audience answered aloud, Yes.)
Yet with the exception of Miranda (who, honestly, is far too mature and engaged in the world to still hang with these me-me-me gals), not one of the fashion fiends lifts her head out of her luggage to get a clue. While Miranda reads up on Abu Dhabi and learns to speak basic courtesies in Arabic, Charlotte scrambles like an American maniac in search of clear cell-phone reception. Samantha is still at it with the horny shtick: She insults her hosts as she rails against not being allowed to dress as trampy as she wants. Carrie still can't get over the awful fact that, while she gave Big an expensive vintage wristwatch for their second anniversary, he gave her a high-end flat-screen TV installed in their bedroom so they could watch old black-and-white movies together. Together. As if the gesture were an insult rather than an offer to share something, anything, other than nights out on the town.
It's of passing interest to note that all the male characters who make return visits including John Corbett as Carrie's ex, David Eigenberg as Miranda's husband, Evan Handler as Charlotte's husband, and Jason Lewis as Samantha's actor boy-toy are so nice and mild and understanding and accommodating that they fade into invisibility. SATC2 doesn't have time to follow any relationships other than those among Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, Miranda, and their suitcases full of costumer Patricia Field's caftan-themed creations. As Carrie might type on her laptop while giving one of her girly little shrugs, When did Sex and the City become so long and mean so little? C-