Sex and the City

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 05/30/08 19:00:00

"Blink, and you’ll miss a designer label."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Even though “Sex and the City” has been off the air for four years, the former HBO series has inspired a big screen effort, which has a pre-release adulation that’s comparable to “The Passion of the Christ.”

Like the earlier movie, “Sex and the City” appeals to a fervent but targeted market—in this case, women with an enthusiasm for fashion and a tolerance for frank discussions of sexuality. At the screening I attended, it’s safe to say the new film satisfies devotees of the show, but it doesn’t do much to win over outsiders to the faith.

To his credit, screenwriter-director Michael Patrick King has managed to assemble a story that viewers who are unfamiliar with the series can easily grasp. If, like me, you’ve only caught a couple of episodes, you won’t get lost while the new tale unfolds.

Newspaper columnist and novelist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker)—who appears to earn as much as an upper-level ExxonMobil executive—has finally managed to get her on-again off-again beau Mr. Big (Chris Noth) to drop the question. By accepting the tycoon’s proposal, she’s entered a whole new world of trouble.

Because she’s the Big Apple’s most famous singleton and Big is one its most prosperous bachelors, the engagement and the wedding are anything but private. The stress makes the twice-divorced Big nervous about taking the plunge.

Carrie’s lifelong pals have challenges of their own. While Charlotte’s (Kristin Davis) marriage is going well, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is noticing that she and her husband Steve (David Eigenberg) are drifting apart.

The seemingly eternal libertine Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has earned a fortune managing her younger boyfriend’s acting career, but staying faithful to him is increasingly difficult with a hunky neighbor (Gilles Marini) next door. Seeing him go to bed with legions of different young women every night makes her long for her freewheeling past.

Because this film is more geared to fan expectations than to genuine storytelling, there aren’t any surprises or even hints of narrative tension here. If you were to skip the middle reels of the film, there isn’t much to miss except some montages where Carrie tries on dozens of old dresses in preparation for a move.

The humor in sequences like these is negligible, and they do little to advance the interlocking stories. At two and a half hours, the film is screaming for deletions. King, who wrote and directed dozens of episodes of the original half-hour series, has little sense of pacing or priority. At times watching the film seems like wandering lost in a downtown alley, waiting to spot a landmark for a better neighborhood.

King’s verbal skill remains intact. Much of the appeal of the show was listening to Carrie and her friends cleverly poking fun at male pomposity and sexual shortcomings. Just as Mae West once drew legions of female fans by verbally putting men in their place, the quartet can find endless ways of cleverly expressing their carnal joys and frustrations. A brief comparison between using crayons and sexual intimacy is almost worth the long wait.

If the series helped break ground on what women could say on TV, both the series and the movie have an unsettling materialism that almost negates everything that’s right about “Sex and the City.”

It’s hard to empathize with characters who rarely have to balance their checkbooks or wonder if a $300 pillow is really a necessity. The endless parade of swank interiors and high-dollar clothes gets wearying if the only designer you’re familiar with is Levi Straus.

In its own way, “Sex and the City” is as unrealistic as an episode of “Star Trek.” Women effortlessly stroll down dozens of city blocks, wearing Jimmy Choo heels as high as the Empire State Building. It’s also unsettling to think that people who are that sexually active aren’t concerned about STDs.

There’s certainly some escapist appeal to be had in visiting a clean, glowing Manhattan that bears little resemblance to any real city, but the people who inhabit it seem more like the folks in a Ray Bradbury story than a tale by Damon Runyon.

Loaded with obvious product placement, the film should be called “Sex and the City: The Catalog” instead of “Sex and the City: The Movie.”

That’s not to say that fashion-oriented stories can’t be fun. Thanks to some terrific performances by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, “The Devil Wears Prada” had enough entertainment value to please even those who by their clothes at Hot Topic.

“Sex and the City” also boasts an Oscar-winner in its cast. It’s nice to see Jennifer Hudson after her terrific work in “Dreamgirls,” but King gives her little to do. Because she plays the only character who has ever worked a real job, it’s a shame we have to wait half the film before she even appears.

If the screening I attended is any indication, these deficiencies won’t deter the faithful. Still, it would be nice to see a movie about love where the folks inside the designer threads would still be interesting if they were wearing sweats and flip-flops.

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