Review: Sex and the City

Every film critic comes across a title they aren't exactly prepared to fully understand. It's a complicated part of the vocation, but a necessary situation that's valuable; perhaps even shedding new light on a cinematic subject. "Sex and the City" (IMDb listing) was one of those situations for me.

While firmly ensconced in her haute couture lifestyle, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is ready to settle down with her longstanding paramour, Mr. Big (a heavily sedated Chris Noth). However, Big isn't all that ready to walk down the aisle, and he abandons Carrie on the day of their wedding, leaving the bride-to-be devastated and unwilling to trust again. Coming to the rescue are her trusted friends: high-strung Charlotte (Kristin Davis), frazzled working mom Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and tiring cougar Samantha (Kim Cattrall). Whisked away to Mexico to heal her wounds, Carrie starts to consider the realities of her love life, and how she'll move on with Big now in the rearview mirror.

To be completely honest, I've never made it past the ten-minute mark of a typical "Sex and the City" episode. Anything more than that and I would break out in a rash and feel my bones turn to dust. It's safe to assume the "Sex" movie is nothing more than an elongated episode of the cult television show, since the old sensations of instant death came rolling back to me during the opening reel of the feature film. I never enjoyed the show, and the big-screen version is simply a heaping helping of the same New York City baloney that once bewitched a nation of daydreaming female (presumably) audiences and desperate magazine writers.

To accept "Sex" is to hold tight to the idea that it's nothing more than a gaudy fantasy. After all, with these strident female stereotypes, insane ideas for cutting-edge fashion, and a parade of proudly emasculated male characters, it's impossible to take anything "Sex" has to say seriously. The material doesn't strike me as a comment on female empowerment either, just a lengthy stab at embellishing a media-fed pathway toward self-loathing for overwhelming profit.

The movie version of "Sex" isn't very cinematic. Writer/director Michael Patrick King merely condenses a season of the HBO show into a preposterously lengthy film (140 minutes long – no joke), and brings along the same flat camerawork, broad performances, and irritating melodrama that powered the franchise on the small screen. Now blown up to theatrical standards, and it all comes across tasteless and punishing. Certainly series devotees will find the return of the four ladies to be gift from Blahnik heaven, but the uninitiated would be best advised to bring along a cyanide pill to end this horror show quickly and painlessly.

King is no director, and the constipated feel of the "Sex" movie is absurd. Typically, there's an effort to bring about new challenges and aesthetic sensations when making the leap to the big screen, but King holds no such ambitions. Instead the film slumps along, focusing on self-absorbed women who can't think of anything but love, all the while bathing in a sea of poisonous materialism, allowing King room to cram in ludicrous amounts of product placement and general pandering to the label-loopy out there who find Carrie's clownish outfits something to admire. Seriously, there are moments in "Sex" that are nothing more than a commercial for top-shelf designers. This is how highly King thinks of his female characters. He'd rather dress them up than confront authentic emotion.

I'll buy the escapism argument, but that doesn't excuse the bloodless drama of "Sex," which is unbearably episodic and one-dimensional. I counted one genuinely human moment during the entire film, while the rest of the plotting is a tired cornucopia of Telemundo-style melodrama, clunky sex jokes (with confusing instances of nudity), and completely unbelievable motivations, employed by King to patch the holes left behind by his embarrassing screenplay; a piece of writing that eventually resorts to embarrassing diarrhea situations and a humping dog to get a laugh. Did the Farrelly Brothers ghost-direct this picture?

The performances are just as shoddy, but I have trouble blaming the actors. It's King who obviously can't meet the demands of the big screen, instructing his actors to mug just as shamefully as before, neglecting the idea that a little goes a long way. Cattrall suffers the most, not only because Samantha is shuffled off to Los Angeles for most of the movie, but the story also doesn't know how to accurately assess the character's declining sexuality. Instead of a purring sex kitten at a crossroads in her life, Cattrall instead channels Divine, pitching her performance to the rafters.

I didn't loathe "Sex" because of my previous interaction with the show. I loathed the film because it's a lazy, mean-spirited commercial for cultural deterioration. Even the most outlandish of fairy tales have some sense of magic and a feel for limitations. "Sex and the City" exists on another planet, where materialism is a desired component of life and a woman is worth nothing if there's not a man to love her.

Filmfodder Grade: D