The HBO series "Sex and the City" ran for six successful seasons (from 1998-2004) and, looking back on it today, it still holds up. Producer Michael Patrick King caught lightning in a bottle with his four charismatic female leads, their characters' trend-setting fashions and beverage of choice (Cosmopolitans), and consistently vibrant, funny and poignant writing that brought real insight and truth to its look at sex, dating and human relationships, sexual or otherwise. At the center was relationship columnist and author Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), a single thirtysomething gal who was gloriously flawed and didn't always have all the answers to the questions she posed. At the end of the series, she and longtime on-again/off-again paramour Big (Chris Noth) finally rekindled their love for one another, while Carrie's palsthe uninhibited Samantha (Kim Cattrall), sensible Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and straight-laced Charlotte (Kristin Davis)all arrived on their journeys to places that felt believable, organic and honest. Each character held a specific, complex arc that loyal viewers could significantly see take shape over the run of the show, and all of them were satisfying.
Four years later, the eagerly-awaited arrival of "Sex and the City" to the big screen has been kept under tight lock-and-key, lest anyone give away the film's secrets and surprise developments. The biggest secret of all, it turns out, is that there really are no secrets to dispel. With an exhausting, epic-length running time of almost two-and-a-half hours, the movie plays like nothing more than a marathon viewing of an entire seventh season that should have never been made. The writing is inferior and lacks spice, the storylines are bland and insipid, and all of the characters basically jog in place, ending up right back where they started at the beginning of the picture. There's little growth for any of them and no unforeseen or provocative plot turns cooked up to explore. The whole thing feels unnecessary.
Set over a one-year timespan in the lives of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, "Sex and the City" opens to find the characters three years older but otherwise right where the series left off. Carrie and Big prepare to move into a gorgeous penthouse apartment and become engaged shortly thereafter, but the road to walking down the aisle is fraught with a few snarls. Devastated by the events that shall not be mentioned (anyone with a working brain will know what's going to happen before it does), Carrie is dragged along to a Mexican resort with her three gal pals supportively intact. Miranda, on the outs with husband Steve (David Eigenberg) since he came clean about a one-time affair, guiltily harbors a secret that may have led to the aforementioned event that shall not be mentioned. Charlotte, meanwhile, learns that she is pregnant and worries that something is bound to go wrong in her happy life with hubby Harry (Evan Handler) and three-year-old daughter Lily (Alexandra and Parker Fong). And as for Samantha, her locale change to Los Angeles and vow of monogamy to younger boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis) prove to be two things she's having trouble adjusting to.
As a self-confessed fan of the series, the movie version of "Sex and the City" is a huge disappointment. The scope is no larger than it was on HBO, only now the viewer has to put up with an overly cute and annoyingly pronounced music score by Aaron Zigman (2007's "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium
") that punctuates the scenes with the subtlety of a boulder landing on a car's sunroof. Various subplots are dreary and unoriginaldidn't Carrie and Big (and for that matter, Miranda and Steve) go through the very same paces multiple times on the show?while others are underutilized and nondescript. Charlotte, her type-A personality rearing its ugly head, comes off as annoying and has few chances to do much outside of a scene where she publicly defecates in her pants. The best scenes are probably the ones where Samantha desperately tries to be a good girl even as she drools over her sex god of a neighbor, but not enough fun is had with this. And what is up with the scene where Samantha shows up with about fifteen extra pounds to her frame (not enough to make a big deal about) and the other three women react with shocked expressions, as if it's the coming of the apocalypse? These characters may have been looks-conscious in the past, but now, in their forties, they have also become off-puttingly shallow.
When writer-director Michael Patrick King runs out of ideas, which is very quickly, he tosses in a dog that humps everything (is this tired gag still funny to anyone?), as well as a new character in the form of Carrie's assistant Louise (Jennifer Hudson), a St. Louis native who has come to the Big Apple to find love. In her first role since her Oscar-winning turn in 2006's "Dreamgirls
," Jennifer Hudson is an earnest natural as Louise, though one has to wonder why Carrie needs an assistant so badly now that she doesn't appear to write much and has exorbitant amounts of free time. Has Carrie really become so high-maintenance that she can't even open her own e-mails? Apparently so.
Sarah Jessica Parker (2008's "Smart People
") reprises her role as Carrie Bradshaw and is as striking in the part as she's always been. No fault of the actress, but Carrie isn't quite as lovable and neurotic as she once was. Now she's just whiney and insecure. Without giving the conclusion away, it demands to be said that dialogue near the end between Carrie and Big sounds as if their mutual decision is going in a refreshingly unconventional direction before it is cheaply thrown aside for the most obvious of denouements. Such a shame. Chris Noth (2005's "The Perfect Man
") is appropriately magnetic as Big, but the character's actions too frequently are dictated solely by the strained requirements of the script in order to add conflict.
Kim Cattrall (2005's "Ice Princess
") is wonderfully entertaining as the forthright Samantha Jones, but the limited aspects of the screenplay hold her back from reaching the potential her character deserves. Cynthia Nixon (2005's "Little Manhattan
") has a few touching moments as Miranda Hobbes, including a nice late scene set on the Brooklyn Bridge and another during a New Year's Eve montage, but the trials and tribulations she faces are sketched rather than vividly drawn. Finally, as Charlotte York, Kristin Davis (2006's "Deck the Halls
") overplays things at times and earns unintentional laughs in a few key dramatic sequences. She is the one out of the four who has trouble sliding back into her old persona, portraying a caricature of the real Charlotte. Despite getting high billing on the poster, Candice Bergen (2003's "The In-Laws
") has but a throwaway one-scene cameo as magazine editor Enid Frick.
As "Sex and the City" sailed past the two-hour mark and still had plenty of loose ends to tie up, it had begun to feel like a never-ending film. That is something that could not have been said of the series, which was five times faster, hipper, smarter, funnier and more original that this turgid sapfest. Any way you look at it, writer-director Michael Patrick King has concocted a dim finished product that has no reason for existing. "Sex and the City"and Carrie Bradshawwent out on a high note in 2004. What King has added is a needless extension of that, and it ultimately taints the good will left by the groundbreaking cable program.