Maybe you don't have to have watched all six seasons of HBO's "Sex and the City" and the 2008 feature film to truly enjoy "Sex and the City 2." But it sure helps.
If you don't know where Carrie put her first engagement ring or if you don't remember Stanford and Anthony's disastrous first meeting, you're on the wrong side of the velvet rope for this movie. If you're the type who wouldn't know a Louboutin if Naomi Campbell flung it at you, your best bet is to treat it like a foreign film without subtitles and smile at the date who dragged you along.
Director and writer Michael Patrick King seems to have given up on the concept of bringing new fans under the big fashion tent this time around. Even more than the 2008 movie, he is speaking directly to the choir at this point.
On the surface, the premise is simple if not happily preposterous. Our girls Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) are all still the best of friends -- dealing with middle-aged problems but still willing to take on big adventure. They all improbably head off to Abu Dhabi for the best kind of luxury vacation -- one completely comped.
Transporting Carrie to this magical Oz so that she can one day kick her heels together and wish to be home in New York with her husband Mr. Big (Chris Noth) doesn't work on a lot of levels. While the scenes offer a beautiful backdrop (which is actually Morocco) and a jumping off point for easy girly jokes, the premise starts dumb and builds to an offensive, unfunny climax.
The Muslim setting inexplicably pushes the women, especially the sexually-open Samantha, to seek their own brand of social reform in the country. Handled with a deft touch, this might make for effective satire. But King slams it with an absurd revolutionary "girl power" zeal. You don't have to be Muslim to be offended by these scenes which culminate with Samantha shoving condoms in the face of angry markets-goers. "Sex" fails so miserably in its feeble attempts to hit on world sexual politics, that Dr. Ruth would side no doubt side with the mullahs.
But another sin with choosing this odd location is that Carrie simply does not play well out of New York City for too long a time. Those who love Carrie love her because she's a soul who searches through a hard, urban battlefield she knows intimately. Putting her in the Middle East for that much screen time is like having Woody Allen direct "Ishtar."
On the positive side, the relationship between Carrie and Mr. Big (in New York) is as interesting as it was in the series as they deal with the concept of growing old with just each other. Even more exciting is that Noth is on top of his game in every respect. In the first movie, it was hard to truly understand his magnetic appeal as he labored with a tremendous gut that threatened to change the meaning of his "Mr Big" nickname
But he's trimmed down for this effort and is eager to show it off. Like a middle-aged Taylor Lautner, he seems to whip his shirt off at every opportunity. Good for him.
Parker too manages to flex yoga biceps as she holds the phone up to her ear and shows her midriff and legs in a number of outfits (sadly, including a burka). Yes, she remains an impressive specimen, as do her other three friends.
Another bonus: Jennifer Hudson's painful addition to the original movie has disappeared like some sort of acid-washed jeans hallucination. Her character isn't even mentioned. Instead the inevitable celeb cameos go from the sublime (Liza Minnelli officiating a gay wedding) to the acceptable (Miley Cyrus, Penelope Cruz).
But more importantly, "Sex and the City 2" continues a parade of great clothes, sophisticated cocktails, and views of two perfectly-formed male buttocks on top of Samantha. For the "in" fans of the show, this is everything.
Everyone else may find that they're just not that into it.