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Review: Not so fair 'Sex'

  • Story Highlights
  • Tom Charity: "Sex and the City" about material things, not characters
  • Film neglects humor in favor of pretty pictures and nice things
  • It's true to the show, but little more than that -- a missed opportunity
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By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- Today's movies have never seemed less interested in figuring out what women want. That's hardly surprising when -- for the summer months at least -- they've practically written off the entire adult population.

Mr. Big (Chris Noth) and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) share a kiss in "Sex and the City."

But they're not interested in what girls want either, not unless it involves Angelina Jolie firing semi-automatic weapons while driving through a storefront at high speed.

With the exception of "Mamma Mia," which stars Meryl Streep and comes out in July, "Sex and the City" is the only big release of the suntan season that isn't calibrated to teenage boys. No wonder some people seem to be anticipating this picture as if it were the second coming. One of the reasons we go to the movies is to take a look at our reflection -- preferably tarted up a little (or in this case, a lot).

With its heavily perfumed air of cosmopolitan chic, the original HBO show (1998-2004) identified a niche audience for designer porn; the sex was softened for syndication, but in any case the money shots were all about the labels. (In retrospect the show seems very '80s -- Bret Easton Ellis without the coke or the psycho killer.) Video Watch the stars at the premiere »

The bubble in which the characters live only gets bigger in the movie, which ignores the recession and imagines Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the ultimate material girl, modeling Vivienne Westwood for her own Vogue spread. When she goes apartment-hunting with the on/off love of her life, Big (Chris Noth), he snaps up the penthouse suite without even inquiring about the price.

"I'll take care of it," he shrugs -- a line delivered with such nonchalance you wonder if Big might have wandered in from another HBO show, "The Sopranos."

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When he's finished redesigning her closet, it's the size of a squash court. Clearly, this must be the perfect man.

Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, a safe pair of hands from the HBO days, "Sex and the City," the movie, is aimed fair and square at the fans. Save for a minor guest role for Jennifer Hudson, shoehorned in as Carrie's assistant, King's approach is out with the new and in with the old; it's more like an extra-long season finale than a big-screen blockbuster. Video Watch Parker talk about the film »

It's four years since we've seen these women, but give or take the odd adopted baby, their lives seem to have been on a well-deserved hiatus. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is still juggling her career with husband Steve and son Brady. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is ensconced in domestic bliss. Carrie is getting on famously with Big and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is in Malibu with her Hollywood hunk.

Maybe it's just encroaching middle age, but King allows this inertia to persist far longer than it should. The moviemakers have been teasing fans by keeping the plot under wraps, but it turns out there's a good reason for that -- there isn't one.

Everybody's happy, then for the longest time (the best part of 145 minutes) everybody's sad, but nobody does much about it -- unless a five-star Mexico retreat counts.

Sex is also relatively low in the pecking order. Miranda admits it's been six months for her; even Samantha is being outstripped by her randy next-door neighbor. The life force of the series, Kim Cattrall's libidinous Sam seems to be punished here by being exiled to the left coast and effectively neutered by the nature of her relationship. She's even lumbered with a totally unwarranted weight issue.

Perhaps fidelity is overrated. King has stayed true to his characters -- which loyal fans will appreciate -- but at the cost of too much of the feistiness that made them fun in the first place. What happened to their sense of humor? This is a sentimental wallow of a picture, a glossy swan song that finds New York's perennial good-time gals in danger of turning into the ladies who lunch.

Is this what women want?

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I'm afraid it's going to have to do for now, but they sure deserve better. We all do.

"Sex and the City" runs 145 minutes and is rated R. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here.

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