New Line Cinema

When Sex and the City was first broadcast in 1998, it was a breath of fresh air. Four women in their 30s aggressively pursued sex, indulged in bawdy humor, and functioned just fine without Mr. Right.

It wasn't the series' emphasis on female sexuality, however, that made it feel original. The show demonstrated something that men like Christopher Hitchens have been denying for centuries: women can be smart, attractive, and funny all at the same time. SATC gave us a semi-realistic look at how women use humor as social glue that binds them to their friends. It also proved that a ribald wit can actually increase a woman's sex appeal.

The story ran into problems, however, when it refused to allow the characters to mature in any meaningful way. One-dimensional characters don't remain compelling for long, and the show's creators never really explored any interests that Carrie and her friends might have shared outside of couture and male anatomy. In Sex and the City 2—the second movie version of the series, which arrived at theaters Thursday—12 years have gone by since the show's debut, but they have the same conversations and crack the same jokes they made in 1998, only now most of their banter feels artificial and forced.

Carrie and her friends do not act like the middle-aged women they are; they continue to behave and dress like girls in their 20s, opening up the door for cruel commentary about their no-longer-perfect physiques. At the same time, paradoxically, most of the girls have married and started families.

But even these relationships reflect a lack of maturity—three of the four characters settled on partners who are beneath them. In the first film, Carrie wound up marrying the emotionally abusive Mr. Big, who initially failed to show up to their society wedding, breaking her heart and humiliating her in front of everyone she knows. Miranda, a Harvard-educated attorney shacked up with the underachieving Steve, who watches Scooby-Doo, cheated on her, and, as we learn in one unfortunate episode, does not wipe himself properly.

Charlotte married Harry even though she found him physically repulsive, because he is supposed to be sweet and caring (and, of course, the sex is good). In reality, however, Harry's behavior is not exceptional—he is just nice enough. Harry initially seduced Charlotte while employed as her divorce attorney, when she was at her most emotionally vulnerable. Not exactly a shining example of professional ethics. Although Charlotte abandoned her faith and converted to Judaism for him, Harry couldn't even be bothered to turn off the TV and talk to her when she cooked him their first Sabbath meal together.

At the very least, it would have been nice to see them with satisfying mates. Perhaps Carrie could have ended up like Candace Bushnell, her real life alter-ego whose column inspired the series. Ms. Bushnell married Charles Askegard, a handsome, talented dancer with the New York City Ballet. Like the fictional Bridget Jones, Carrie could have snagged herself a Mark Darcy, a shy but good-hearted human rights attorney. Instead, she settled on Mr. Big, a bore with commitment issues.

Unlike her gal pals, Samantha Jones decided to remain single. In the first film, she dumps her appetizing, younger boyfriend, Smith Jerrod, and decides that she is happiest as a free agent. This choice seemed dignified and self-aware. Why settle if you are content on your own? Unfortunately, Sex and The City 2 portrays her as an insecure, aging lunatic. In the new film, she swallows 40 vitamin and hormone pills at once to stave off menopause. We see her sitting in her office desperately massaging youth creams into her nether regions, in full view of her assistant.

While flawed and depressing, the first Sex and the City movie did manage to tie up the story's loose ends. No threads were left untied, and so the sequel feels empty and gratuitous. Everyone has already had their happy ending, and the filmmakers rely on the girls' neuroses to inject a little drama into the situation. Carrie has finally snagged Mr. Big but is beginning to feel stifled. Miranda hates her boss. Charlotte feels over-burdened by motherhood, despite not working and having hired a full time nanny. In one scene, she and Miranda drink a toast to women who can't afford hired help. This might be smirk-worthy in better economic times, but in a period when the loss of day care subsidies are forcing poor mothers to quit their jobs and go on welfare, it seems a bit over the top.

When a wealthy sheik offers to fly Samantha to Abu Dhabi on business, she insists on bringing the girls. Not surprisingly, Samantha's lack of self-control displeases the authorities and trouble ensues. But this is not an episode of Girls Gone Wild. Watching a teenager wave condoms at Muslim men during their call to prayer would be bad, but when 52-year-old-Samantha behaves in this fashion, you wonder if she has lost her mind. Samantha Jones deserves more dignity. Ultimately, by not maturing or evolving in 12 years, the girls have lost their spunk, and more importantly, their humor.

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