Four years after ending their run on HBO, the "Sex and the City" girls are back, still slim as their stiletto heels and pretty as a pink cocktail, even though they're heading into their fifth and sixth decades. The movie, scripted and directed by series veteran Michael Patrick King, caters to viewers nostalgic for the Emmy-winning show while pushing forward into feature film territory.
It begins where the final episode concluded, then leads its four fashionistas into darker territory, giving the fizzy goings-on some dramatic heft.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), who has graduated from being a relationship columnist to a bestselling author, is still in a committed relationship with Mr. Big (Chris Noth). They're moving into a penthouse the size of a football field.
Samantha, sexually ravenous as ever, is living in Malibu with her actor/client/boy-toy Smith (Jason Lewis). She's chafing under the yoke of monogamy as she eyes their hunky neighbor.
Life is even more onerous for tense Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), balancing a high-stress law practice, an unfulfilling marriage to bartender Steve (David Eigenberg) and the demands of motherhood in Brooklyn.
Charlotte (Kristin Davis) has a charmed life, with a glorious Park Avenue apartment, adoring hubby Harry (Evan Handler) and their adopted Chinese daughter.
When Carrie suggests that she and Big consider marriage, now that they will be cohabiting and all, he casually replies, "I wouldn't mind being married to you." The engagement of "the ultimate single gal" makes the newspaper gossip columns and Carrie is featured in a Vogue fashion spread as a mature bride who comes in just under the threshold of "the unintended Diane Arbus subtext." But as the wedding day nears, tensions intervene, phone messages go awry and complications multiply. Carrie spends most of the film's middle section in a depressive funk.
While the quippy dialogue doesn't rival the TV show's candid sexual chatter, there's a fair dose of porn in this helping of "Sex." There's textile porn, with dozens of costume changes for the ladies, a montage of Parker in wedding gowns by top designers, and a front-row view of phantasmagorical fashions at a runway show. There's dwelling porn, with loving shots of Carrie's new closet, which is big enough to land a Piper Cub. There's product porn, as name-brand coffee, shoes, handbags and accessories parade across the screen.
Actual sex, however, is in short supply. Miranda and Steve have a revealing bedroom scene, Samantha peeps as her well-endowed neighbor showers and serves herself up as a naked sushi platter, and Carrie and Big have a fully clothed encounter that leaves them glowing with post-coital bliss. There are a couple of scenes that help the film earn its R, but they're more comic than steamy. The randiest character onscreen is a pet pooch in perpetual heat.
As on the series, the acting is all over the place. Parker and Nixon make their characters' grief feel quite real. Catrall does her stagy Mae West impression as capably as ever, and Davis does all she's ever been asked to do: Pop her eyes wide and act chirpy.
Clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, the film doesn't add new layers of complexity to the leads, and stints on attention to secondary characters; the gay men Stanford (Willie Garson) and Anthony (Mario Cantone) flit through the film in a blink. Carrie's marital mishaps are the main story line, but there are arcs for the other three principals, as well, and the film feels padded. A subplot introducing Jennifer Hudson ("Dreamgirls") as Carrie's assistant doesn't do much to advance the plot, but it adds a touch of variety to the film's white-on-white demographics. A side trip to a Mexican resort seems to exist solely to set up a diarrhea joke.
If it were 20 minutes trimmer, "Sex and the City" would be considerably better. Writer/director King should have remembered the classic fashion advice: When you think you're well dressed, take something off.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186