I liked the TV series, honest. Admittedly, any really enlightened appreciation was limited by my lowly status as a man, and not even a gay man at that. But, for a fellow who wouldn't know a Jimmy Blahnik from a Manolo Choo, I got intrigued by the sociology of the show and especially by the glue linking the sex to the city – the internal bonding among the four famously single women and the collective bonding among the New Yorkers themselves. Both groups wore their urban sophistication too proudly on their sleeves and, as a result, both seemed touchingly provincial (cosmopolitan, in their lexicon, is just a drink). Better still, I learned a lot from the celebrated dialogue, not least that girl talk could be every bit as crude, boorish and, yes, chauvinistic as any of the macho dreck I'd grown up listening to, and cringing at, in the guys' locker room.
For sure, I liked the TV series, along with the fact that success turned the show into its own label, a designer brand unto itself, which may explain why, after the last episode aired four years ago, the series felt instantly dated, so yesterday's Valentino. But that dated quality doesn't begin to explain why I hate, loathe and despise – sorry to mince my words – the movie based on the TV show. Or perhaps that reaction (okay, overreaction) is intriguing too. After all, bad summer films, full of furious hype and signifying nothing, are hardly exceptional these days, nor is the sound they typically make: the dull scrape of a culture hitting rock bottom. Yet this one seems uniquely bad; this one is a threshold-breaker with a different sound, the crack of rock-bottom giving way to a whole deeper layer of magma.
Why? Well, the attendant hype has been ordinary enough, with the script and its narrative possibilities – Will someone die? Will someone else marry? – treated as the usual state secret. Spoiler alert, the secret is out: There is no script, at least nothing recognizable as such to any sentient being with a room-temperature IQ. Instead, writer-director Michael Patrick King takes the designer brand that is the TV series, which he helped create, and simply mounts it on the screen, just sticks it up there along with the other brand names, the ones attached to dresses and shoes and handbags. That means the iconic foursome with their adjectival personalities – bouncy Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), horny Samantha (Kim Cattrall), judicious Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), preppy Charlotte (Kristin Davis) – don't perform so much as parade, fixed in their roles as semi-animated clothes hangers on a cinematic runway.
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Sometimes, the runway is literal – like when Carrie, on the brink of her nuptials with Mr. Big, models designer wedding gowns while breathlessly providing her own voice-over exclamations: “Lagerfeld!”, “de la Renta!”, “Balenciaga!”, “Vivienne Westwood!” (her ultimate choice and the clear winner in the picture's product-placement sweeps). Even more impressive than the haute-couture list is the freedom it provides King – this time, no need for clever or catty wit when the dialogue's sole purpose is to wed label to label, Carrie to Vivienne.
To be sure, the impending nuptials hint at the presence of something akin to a plot, which lazily diverges to include all the girls in something akin to subplots. Oh, the suspense will have you on the edge of your Eames chair: Carrie bouncily wonders whether Big will let her down again; Samantha hornily contemplates whether one hunky stud is ever enough; Miranda judiciously ponders whether to forgive her errant hubby; Charlotte preppily worries whether too much happiness is a terrible burden (now, there's a hot-button issue plaguing the planet).
Occasionally, girls being girls, the four set aside their worldly concerns to provide us with fun and laughter. They're off for a Mexican getaway, where Charlotte, after drinking too deeply of the local agua, cacks her panties. The gals guffaw. Then there's the hilarious sight of Miranda overflowing the southernmost region of her bathing suit, having apparently neglected her waxing duties. More guffaws. The yuks never end.
Nor does the movie, at well over 21/4 hours and counting. Rather, like a bloated sitcom suffering from a wicked case of insomnia, it meanders through an entire year's worth of calendar events – Halloween, Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day. Inflated too are the sitcom mannerisms of the starring cast. On the small screen, their exaggerated tics are tolerable as standard TV hyperbole; on the large, however, that damn mugging looks like all-out slaughter. Alas, in the less-is-more department, King's only directorial concession is to ask each woman in turn to shed her designer duds and pose for soft-porn close-ups: Parker in her skivvies, Davis under the shower, Nixon in bed enjoying hot make-up sex; and (the money shot) Cattrall lying on her back naked save for a discreet covering of sushi. Yes, sushi – it's the sexually emancipated babe as a human bento box, or if you prefer, a black widow spider roll.
The male characters, straight and gay, are essentially just window-dressing here, and since that decorative job has historically been women's work in the movies, I suppose the picture can at least claim the distinction of transferring the inequity across gender lines – hoping, perhaps, that two wrongs add up to Mr. Right. On the distaff side, Jennifer Hudson, playing Carrie's newly hired assistant, earns honorary membership in the girls' club and, as she opens a Christmas present, the chance to squeal in gratitude: “Wow, my very own Louis Vuitton.”
Wow, our very own Sex and the City. The TV series, at its best, was a witty little accessory, a clutch purse containing pearls of dubious wisdom, definitely worth fighting over and arguing about. But this exercise in recycled fashion is a whole other vat of Vuitton. This is a pricey handbag of a movie, uncontaminated by anything so crass as substance, filled only with the perfumed air of a culture at rest – concept blissfully free of content.