Say what you will, director Michael Patrick King knows how to stage a fabulous gay nuptial. Sex and the City 2 begins with flair and good humor at the wedding of Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), complete with a gay men's chorus in white top-and-tails crooning a tastefully low-key "Sunrise, Sunset," Carrie and Big in his-and-hers tuxes, and the girl-gang beaming best wishes for the happy couple.
So far, so charming, at least until Liza Minnelli — as the rabbi, after a fashion — shows up to hoof a little number, wearing someone else's face and flanked by twin younger versions of herself. I'm sorry, but a 64-year-old woman in a shirt worn over tights is not a happy sight, no matter how good she once was at this. You want to avert your eyes for her sake — and be warned, there's more of that coming in SATC2.
I get that "dignity be damned" is a mantra for writer-director King, who wants to let us know, every five minutes, that he just loves women. But it's one thing to create a group of BFFs who have become, in their way, post-millennium pop female icons as beloved as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were in the late 1970s. It's quite another to drag them well into middle age, dress them like mutton passing as lamb, and lumber them with female troubles culled straight from the mommy or single-lady blogs.
Having cracked the forgiveness thing in SATC1, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) faces new work-life challenges: Making partner at her shiny corporate law firm has brought her a hostile new boss. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is fielding two children, one of whom is a chronic weeper, and the potential threat of a comely Irish nanny (Alice Eve) with a free-swinging bosom. What to do when your fear of losing the help outruns your terror of her seducing hubbie? Meanwhile, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) continues to play the sex-crazed cougar, and it's getting old in every way as she gobbles vitamins and estrogen-rich yams to counter hot flashes and maintain her drive for young studs with washboard abs.
As for Carrie: Sarah Jessica Parker is now 45 years old, and, frankly, I cannot stomach another moment of the simpering, mincing, hair-tossing, eyelash-batting little-girl shtick she's been pulling ever since she emerged, with considerably more verve and charm, as a high-colonic Malibu Barbie opposite Steve Martin in L.A. Story. It goes without saying that Carrie has been assigned the movie's big-ticket issue: What to do with marriage once the newlywed bliss is over, especially if you don't want children? That's a very good question, but one that's promptly dumbed down with bogus dilemmas, trumped-up crises, and much ancillary footwear chatter. Once the happy pair has feathered their cozy little nest, a cavernous pad with the requisite ballroom-size closet, it turns out that Big is a homebody who's had it, poor boy, with the fancy restaurants and glam gallery openings, and wants nothing more than to cuddle up with Carrie and the flat-screen television.
What's a writer-girl, who happens to be finishing a book that heaps scorn on traditional marriage, to do about all this loss of conjugal bling? Why, talk it to death in ever-decreasing circles of inconsequential angst, then head for Abu Dhabi (Morocco, actually, but all those countries look the same, don't they?). There, exactly as you'd expect, await 90 minutes of the four F's — fashion, food, furnishings, and fornication — plus scads of cringe-making Middle Eastern stereotypes wrapped in a nominal shout-out to oppressed Arab women who, guess what, like Versace and suffer from hot flashes just like us. For bonus subplotting, Carrie runs into an old flame (John Corbett's Aidan), and they kiss. No tongue or anything below the waist, but — major marital flare-up. Can the sparkle be saved, or will it subside into a mature glow?
Having raked in $400 million for the first SATC, King can pretty much write his own ticket, which may explain why the sequel runs a crushing 146 minutes. But he's a TV guy, not a movie guy. Like its predecessor, SATC2 — with a script that's basically a sack full of not very funny gag-lines wrapped in strung-together episodic miniscenes — is not suited to be a movie. What makes this one especially unbearable, though, is the way King's palpable affection for women — the more neurotic the better — in the HBO series has curdled into a kind of chortling malice, with sadistic close-ups of faces too old for their fuck-me junior attire and problems 15 years too young. There's a goofily charming sequence in an Abu Dhabi nightclub, when all four women, with backup from a team of voluptuous Arab belly dancers, sing their own sweet, straight version of "I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar)." Too bad the rest is a self-indulgent whimper.