What happens in Abu Dhabi not too pretty
By Robert W. Butler
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
The prototypical "Ugly American" of the 1960s was a loud, obnoxious Yankee tourist who sported a garish Hawaiian print shirt (or maybe day-glo Capri pants) and in a braying voice found foreign cultures patently inferior to what they enjoyed back home.
There's a bit of that going on in "Sex and the City 2," in which New York gal pals Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte descend on the Arab emirate of Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid vacation.
Oh, these Americans are beautiful — or at least as beautiful as a $10 million wardrobe budget can make them.
But they're ugly in that they bring their cosmopolitan values and in-your-face sexuality to a Middle Eastern culture and, oblivious to local standards, feel it's their right to flaunt it all before the poor repressed heathens.
It's not the sexuality that's offensive. It's the arrogance.
OK, perhaps I'm taking the latest from writer/director Michael Patrick King too seriously. After all, it's supposed to be a lighthearted lark with some deeper moments, an excuse for the audience to revisit beloved characters and vicariously live a lifestyle of conspicuous consumption.
And for the first hour or so it works. Unfortunately, the film is 2› hours long.
We're re-introduced to the women and their men and learn that all four are undergoing various crises.
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) fears her marriage to Big (Chris Noth) has lost its "sparkle" ... especially when he commits the mortal sin of giving her a major appliance for their anniversary.
Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) wants to quit her job because of her sexist boss. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is dealing with two small children and a gorgeous Irish nanny who may be too sexy to hang on to ("Erin go bra-less," observes the majorly menopausal Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall).
There's some amusing stuff here, like the over-the-top gay wedding of Stanford and Anthony (Willie Garson, Mario Cantone), replete with a chorus of men in white tuxes crooning show tunes as Liza Minnelli officiates.
But when the girls finally get around to flying to the Middle East, things get dicey. The plot slows — not that there's much of one to begin with — and the film threatens to become a thinly disguised travelogue.
(See the girls ride camels! See them dress outrageously for a trip to the local bazaar! See them sing "I Am Woman" at the hotel karaoke bar!)
Carrie runs into old flame Aidan (John Corbett) and shares a spontaneous kiss for which she feels terribly guilty. She's compelled to call Big and confess. Apparently what happens in Abu Dhabi doesn't stay in Abu Dhabi.
This "Sex and the City" does have some good things to say about female empowerment and friendship. It's gay-positive. It's nice to look at.
And it does have one genuine fine dramatic moment when Carrie discovers that her butler at the hotel (Raza Jaffrey) is a native of India who had to leave his wife behind and only infrequently has the time and money to fly home for a visit. Kinda puts the girls' pampered lives in perspective.
But in the end it makes its heroines seem vain and shallow. That's not how I want to remember them.