© 2010 Ray Wong
I suppose when you're dealing with a highly recognizable, international commodity such as Sex and the City, you can simply add a number to the end of the sequel without any subtitle. But does a "2" mean it's twice as good or as fun? Not really.
It's been two years since Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and John "Mr. Big" Preston (Chris Noth) got married. The couple now lives in a posh upper east side loft and Carrie has a new book out. Things are going well, except marital bliss takes a hit when Carrie starts to think she's under-appreciated and, most important, she misses her old life and is worrying if she and Big are becoming an old, boring married couple.
Meanwhile, her best friends are dealing with their own problems: Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is stressed out by motherhood; Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is stressed out by her job at which her boss hates her; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), at age 52, is battling menopause. Then a potential client of Samantha, Shiekh Khalid (Art Malik), comes to the rescue: he invites Samantha and her three best pals to an all-expense-paid trip to Abu Dhabi for a week. It's a perfect time for the girls to get away from their daily grind.
Once in Abu Dhabi, tension arises when Charlotte and Carrie can't see eye-to-eye with regard to their different definitions of marriage. Samantha's overt sexuality is oppressed in the middle-eastern state. And Carrie is having second thoughts about her marriage, especially when she accidentally bumps into her ex (and one true love other than Mr. Big), Aidan (John Corbett).
After playing the role of Carrie Bradshaw for more than 10 years, Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) has no problem easing back into it. However, it seems like the character is regressing; you'd have thought after all these years, she'd have grown up, especially after marrying the love of her life and having everything she ever wanted. Parker's performance is dutiful, but she never quite rises above and beyond what she's given to work with. Carrie Bradshaw is a brat, and she quickly becomes the most irritating, whiny character. I don't fault Ms. Parker, though; I blame it on writer-director Michael Patrick King.
The other three actresses are reduced to hugely supportive roles: Kristin Davis (Couples Retreat) is the comic relief by acting like a clueless, stupid housewife; Cynthia Nixon (An Englishman in New York) has almost nothing to do; while Kim Cattrall (The Ghost Writer) steals every scene she's in, her character is also reduced to a caricature. She plays the sexually provocative Samantha with vim, but Samantha simply comes across as clueless, crass and a big joke.
The men, in their extremely minor roles, fare somewhat better. Chris Noth (The Good Wife) is dashing and contemplative as Mr. Big. But I can't help but notice his chemistry with Parker is waning. Could it be that Noth has a new love (in The Good Wife) or their relationship is underwritten? David Eigenberg (Sex and the City) and Evan Handler (Sex and the City) are more or less background players as Miranda's and Charlotte's husbands respectively. John Corbett (Baby on Board) reprises his role as Aidan Shaw, and he gives one of the most sensible performances. Willie Garson and Mario Cantone also reprise their roles as Carrie's and Charlotte's gay best friends.
Notable cameos include Liza Minelli (playing herself), Alice Eve (She's Out of My League) as Charlotte's hot nanny, Penelope Cruz (Nine) as a flirtatious woman, Max Ryan (Death Race) as a rich businessman and the object of Samantha's lust, and Michael T. Weiss (Marmalade) as a gay man who has the eye for Mr. Big.
Written and directed by Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City), the movie is one drawn-out TV episode instead of a feature, despite the exotic locations and glossy production. Unlike the first movie, which addressed real issues such as infidelity, commitment, finding one's true self, etc. in a story rich in plot and character development, this addition deals with mostly superfluous problems such as marital boredom and "need some time off."
The overarching question (as famously asked by that Carrie's inquisitive voice) is: What is marriage? In another story, it could be a thought-provoking, complex, rich theme. In this story, however, it's trivial, contrived and annoying. Carrie's biggest problem is that she's bored because Mr. Big wants to spend time snuggling with her in bed watching black and white movies! Charlotte can't deal with motherhood despite the fact that she adores her daughters, has a doting husband, and a full-time nanny!
And that's the problem with King's screenplay: there just aren't that many real, pressing issues and conflicts to sustain a feature film. So King pads it with an extravagant, fantasy-filled road trip to exotic Abu Dhabi and attempts to tackle the social and economical commentaries (such as treatments of women, the oppressive sexual customs and laws, class system, etc.) with a half-hearted, and often farcical effort. It's basically a huge opportunity for them to be outrageous (exotic locations, ridiculous fashion that is highly inappropriate for the situations, and outlandish behaviors).
At 146 minutes, the movie feels agonizingly long, since it lacks substance. The extended adventures in Abu Dhabi, especially near the end, is a mess as far as narrative and plot are concerned. I was looking at my watch wishing for it to be over, and then 30 minutes later, it's still going on. It's not to say it's all bad: there are certainly fine moments, funny moments, and some really beautiful locations and people to look at. But that is not a movie -- more like a fantasy travel log.
King really botches this one, taking the good will resulting from the surprisingly poignant and complex first movie and throwing it away with an indulgent, crass, unnecessary addition. The characters are left with nothing to do but to ponder on trivial things such as being bored with their perfect lives, what to wear while taking a ride on camels, or how cheap shoes are in Abu Dhabi. Can these people be more superficial?
Sex and the City is never dull and always quite entertaining, but this sequel is a dud because it lacks substance and forgets about what really matters: it's not the shoes, but the characters! (Unlike Samantha, I'm filled to the brim with estrogen after watching this one. I should have picked Prince of Persia instead; at least I'd have gotten my fill of mass destructions, Bruckheimer-style). There's not enough sex, not enough city, but just a whole lot of hot air and empty promises.
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, John Corbett, Alice Eve
Director: Michael Patrick King
Writers: Michael Patrick King (based on Candace Bushnell's characters)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, language and nudity
Running Time: 146 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.5 out of 10