In Sex and the City 2, a movie gaudy enough to make Dancing with the Stars seem dignified, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) coins a memorable phrase. The four girlfriends are sitting around a pool in Abu Dhabi, but Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is not relaxing. According to Carrie, she needs an "inter-friend-tion" to make her forget about her husband and two daughters back in New York City with their hot Irish nanny, whom the girls dub Erin Go Bra-less so she can properly enjoy her vacation with Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon).
Ladies, we go way back all the way to 1998, when the TV series Sex and the City premiered on HBO so presumably you'll appreciate our loving intent in staging an inter-friend-tion of our own. Generally, we consider any time with you a guaranteed good time, but Sex and the City 2 is a long 146 minutes. It feels forced, as if you weren't sure you should have invited us over again so soon. In the series and the 2008 movie of the same name, you managed to intertwine frivolous good times with significant and sometimes tart truths about love and friendships. Now you're running off to the Middle East for some sand dunes and culture shock in what seems uncomfortably like a Bob Hope movie. Drawing such parallels is upsetting, we know. But somewhere between the wordplay (like the one about having "camel toe" on a camel) and the musical number (a karaoke rendition of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman"), your new movie starts turning into The Road to Abu Dhabi.
It takes a while to get on that road, though. First there's a big fat gay Connecticut wedding for Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone), officiated by Liza Minnelli, who earns her keep with a divinely slurred, honking rendition of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." Writer-director Michael Patrick King gives the lay of the land, with all the classic middle-aged stuff: Miranda, you're overworked and underappreciated; Charlotte, you're overwhelmed by your tyrannical toddler and anxious that Harry (Evan Handler) will inevitably sleep with the nanny (in accordance with "the Jude law," as Carrie nicely puts it); Samantha, you're overdosing on vitamins and creams, hoping to stave off menopause.
As for Carrie, you have a new marriage book out, titled I Do, Don't I?, but life with John, a.k.a. Big (Chris Noth), is vaguely dissatisfying: two years of being settled is starting to feel staid. As Big points out, he spent 30 years going out in New York City, and now he'd like to put his feet up, watch TV and order in. You've decided to remain childless, which means, as you put it, you'll "have to work on the sparkle for the rest of our lives." So he suggests, as a means of keeping the sparkle alive, that he spend two nights a week in your old apartment left unoccupied, thanks to the lousy real estate market, as a shrine to your single womanhood and a dubious plot device. There, he'll be able to indulge slothful male habits like watching television in bed. We can understand his thinking. Carrie, we've always been on your side, but the fact is, you're kind of a drag now. Will anything ever make you happy?
Apparently, a free trip to Abu Dhabi will, sponsored by a sheik who wants Samantha to do some public relations work for him. The main attraction of this creepily opulent place seems to be the availability of servants, with chauffeured cars as plentiful as your cosmopolitans of yesteryear. In the old days, you four would have worked out your dilemmas in the back of a cab, and we would have happily joined you for the ride. But now we've grown apart. Sure, you always had extravagant shoe habits, but you also used to struggle with mortgages and small closets. You got dressed up and looked fabulous, but we saw you without your makeup too. Even if you had shallow tendencies, we still believed in your depths. Now you recoil at traveling coach.
Has success changed you? In the past, your digs at American gender politics were astute, but your patronizing take on foreign cultures seems shockingly simplistic. ("It's like they don't want them to have a voice," Carrie says wonderingly of the women wearing veils in the United Arab Emirates.) And while none of you bring particularly scintillating emotional baggage to the dramatic arc of the film, you all bring a ridiculous amount of actual luggage. (For one trip into the sand dunes alone, there are three outfit changes.) We barely have time to register a dress before it's gone. And the copious product placements (Pringles and Suzanne Somers' hormone book Breakthrough? Seriously?) bolsters the sense that you've gotten greedy.
Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
We're not implying it was all agony. There are moments in Sex and the City 2 that remind us of our history together. Cattrall is an unexpected favorite, charging ahead with such admirable conviction that we stop noticing how potentially humiliating many of her scenes are. (She even pulls off the line "Lawrence of my labia.") It's nice to bump into Carrie's former flame Aidan (John Corbett) in an Arabian market, even though we know that romance was put to bed long ago. A scene in which Miranda encourages the ever endearing Charlotte, over cocktails, to confess to struggling with motherhood is a glimpse of the old, less entitled Sex and the City. "It's so hard," Charlotte finally admits as Miranda nods and urges her to take another sip. Then she wonders aloud, "How do the women without help do it?" and knocks us right back out of sync. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, let's catch up again sometime but really, no rush. And please, no camels.