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Glitz devours substance in irksome “Sex and the City 2”

And you thought Liberace was flamboyant.

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”
~~Henry David Thoreau

In 2008, “Sex and the City” was a nice surprise to fans who were expecting a rehash of a TV show that ended exquisitely. The outrageous fashions were there, but they played understudy to the authentic problems of four women (OK, three) approaching their 40s: struggling marriages, men afraid of commitment, balancing careers and motherhood. All the things that made “Sex and the City” a sincere endeavor are absent from the farfetched,  annoying, unclever sequel. (Everyone saw this coming, but still.) The dew’s off the rose.

In case anyone had doubts that “Sex and the City 2” would rocket past “over-the-top” into “ridiculous,” the opening scenes ease them. Director Michael Patrick King presents us with a wedding so ostentatious — did I mention the swans? — that it’s appropriate the entertainment is Liza Minelli (sporting some fierce getaway sticks) bellowing out Beyoncé’s “All the Single Ladies.” Films that begin with such razzle-dazzle make me suspicious; the rest of “Sex and the City 2” succeeded in making me nauseous. If there’s no advertisement for the dangers of conspicuous consumption, this motion picture is it. The clothes are no longer clothes, they are circus costumes (SJP, we expect this from you, but what have you done to Kristin Davis?), and the jewelry is worse. There are Buckingham Palace chandeliers less ornate Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) earrings. Bold is one thing, but getups that swallow up the characters and the plot are another. By the ending, “Sex and the City 2” has devolved into the fashion show from Hell.

That’s enough ranting about the clothes, which fashionista fans probably j’adore*. There are some half-hearted storylines somewhere in the folds of those billowing M.C. Hammer pants Carrie (Parker) wears: Carrie and Big (Chris Noth, whose limited charm becomes grating fast) have settled into married life, and he’s become a couch potato. She’s convinced they’ve turned into a boring married couple although a) they’ve been married two years and b) their collective fortune totals more than the GNP of Guam. Charlotte (Davis) has discovered that kids are a lot less compliant in real life than they are on the covers of parenting magazines. Miranda, still married to Steve (David Eigenberg, always too nice and normal to belong), has a new boss (Ron White) who hates women. Samantha’s busy staving off menopause with remedies she lifted from Suzanne Somers. She’s on the road to tricking her body into thinking its years younger because a hot flash in the middle of some mattress dancing is not on her to-do list. This is what we get in the first 45 minutes of “Sex and the City 2,” and King, sensing this won’t last long, ships the girls off all-expenses-paid to Abu Dhabi. In the Middle East they do things like ride camels in the desert wearing platforms and sporting breast-baring tops in conservative Muslim company. (Samantha even glad-handles the Mr. Happy of a suitor in a restaurant.) What’s meant to come across as fish-out-of-water comedy translates into a disrespect for the country — which these women are guests in — and the culture. Flaunting their wealth in a place where women have to lift their burkas to eat French fries is disdainful.

The costumes and disrespect aside, isn’t there anything redeeming or at least remotely funny in this movie? Wrack my brain I did, and it produced a memory of the sole sincere, touching scene: Miranda and Charlotte, over drinks, discuss the difficulties of motherhood — Charlotte’s thought after considering Harry (Evan Handler) might cheat with the nanny is “I can’t lose the nanny!” — and give a salute to the women who do it without help. All the rest of the dialogue is hokey and punny, including an unforgivable play on Jude Law’s name. The girls’ karaoke sing-a-long to “I Am Woman” offers a sadly brief glimpse into the camaraderie, the chemistry that made the show and the original film such a rousing success. Before, the clothes mattered less than the friendship. Now, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha are just a bunch of overprivileged fashion slaves.

Grade: D

*Technically it should be “ils adorent,” but I’m working a play on words here.