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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.

Blingitude; Or, “The City Gets Sexier”

What? The solid-gold angel wings were in the shop?

The stately but classy end of HBO’s “Sex and the City” in 2004 left us devoted fans with lingering questions, the most urgent of which had to do with how us poor normal lady folk could look at shoe porn without, you know, becoming That Weird Lady Who Spends Uncomfortably Long Periods of Time in Payless Pretending She’s Not in Payless.

Four long years later came the film AND a ridiculously glamorous revolving door of outfits.

And now we get the promotional poster for “Sex and the City 2,” due out in May 2010. It’s got sequins. It’s got glitter. It’s got white, flowing fabrics. It’s got what I assume must be accessories — shoes included — made from 79.5-karat gold lovingly created to mold every nonexistent curve of Sarah Jessica Parker’s body? There’s “highly stylized,” and then there’s a visual assault so shiny even Liberace would take a step back and say “too glittery.”

Though I’m a die-hard fan — even tossed about the idea of starting my own column called “Dry Spell in the Country” — the poster and movie stills have me worried that Michael Patrick King will take this “Goddesses of Glam” idea a little too far. What made the 2008 film so great was the way it offered a very real, honest look at the ways female friendships (particularly those that last beyond the teen years and the 20s) empower women and strengthen self-esteem. The movie also offered a certain amount of closure, enough to suggest that our time with Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha was over. And that, it seemed, was as it should be.

But there will be another sequel, possibly two, and like most fans of the show I will continue to watch them and (most likely) continue to sing the “Too Much of a Good Thing” blues. In the meantime, though, all we can do is sit back and try not to look directly at the poster. No sense going blind, you know.