Since 1998, the seminal HBO series Sex and the City has held a certain segment of the American population — a mainly female segment of the American population—in its cosmopolitan thrall. (Present company included.) It has spawned city tours, cocktails, quizzes (apparently I'm Carrie, with a touch of Miranda and Charlotte), a clothing line, a best-selling self-help book (He's Just Not That into You) — and a best-selling movie based on the aforementioned best-selling self-help book. Hype, quadruple squared.
And of course, in 2008 it spun off its own blockbuster movie, also titled Sex and the City, which quickly became a phenomenon, as gaggles of groupies rushed the multiplex, paying homage to Cosmos and Manolos and the endless quest for a life lived on one's own terms. There was, as it turns out, life after HBO.
Given the runaway success of the big-screen SATC, it stood to reason that there would soon be a SATC 2. And now, two years later, there is.
Problem is, SATC's filmmakers have swallowed their own Kool-Aid. They believe the hype. Which means they got lazy, and sloppy, falling back on tired tropes and forgetting why TV's SATC resonated so with its audience. (An audience, it should be noted, made up of women of all colors. There's one African American in the film, and she's Samantha's assistant and she's got exactly one line. One.)
Instead of story, plot and character development, writer-director Michael Patrick King settled for serving up a series of outfits — each more outrageously over-the-top than the last — separated by sight gags. (Kind of like The Hangover, but with designer-clad women in Abu Dhabi instead of Vegas, and not as funny.) It's as though King had long tired of the romantic travails of Carrie and Samantha and Charlotte and Miranda and couldn't figure out what to do with them. So he said, what the hell, and stranded them in the dessert with a camel — the better to make camel-toe jokes.
The movie begins promisingly enough, opening with quick images of Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) back in the '80s, when they first landed in the City, and their dreams were as big and as fluffy as their hair. Now that they've settled down, they've got just one more wedding to go to — and it's not Samantha's. In this post-Prop 8 era, it's Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony's (Mario Cantone) wedding. Or, as Carrie notes, "Just when you thought everyone you know is too old to get married, here come the gays." Cue Liza Minnelli, who steps onstage to officiate the wedding and perform a senior citizen's version of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies." (And no, it's not nearly as amusing as it sounds.)
All is not well with the "girls," even though they presumably have all that they want. The new senior partner at Miranda's law firm is making her life hell; as a result, she's become a slave to the CrackBerry. Charlotte's troubled by her toddler, who screams nonstop — and by her braless Irish nanny, who possesses annoyingly bountiful, bouncing breasts. Meanwhile, Samantha is trying to stave off menopause with a cocktail of bio-identical hormones, and Carrie, having snagged Mr. Big, can't be bothered with the whole nesting thing. (Personally, I would have picked Aidan, but whatever.) She wants more "sparkle," as in, "I don't want to be one of those married couples lying in bed and watching television and not talking."
All of the above, intelligently handled, could have made for smartly sidesplitting comedy. Instead the girls are shipped off to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (actually Morocco) for a little R&R. Whereupon the sight gags — and the stereotyping — commence with fervor. There, the men, who all wear turbans, are boorish, misogynistic, violent and threatening, while the women cower beneath head-to-toe burqas that reveal only their eyes. In the SATC universe, people of color are there to provide a little local color — or to serve as the butt of a really offensive joke.
It was one of the few shows to really explore the life of the single urban woman — of single women who really, really liked sex. Its characters were deeply flawed, funny, smart, human. With SATC 2, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda are neither smart nor funny nor human. Just flawed.
Teresa Wiltz is The Root's senior editor. Follow her on Twitter.