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Sex and the City 2 (慾望城市2)

Devotees of “Sex and the City” are hoping for something more or less like a wet dream. But Carrie Bradshaw & Co. return with nothing new to say. The sex is less frisky, the conversations more irreverent and crass, the relationships still, of course, tangled.

“Sex and the City 2” writer-director Michael Patrick King strays from the sharp observational style of the series, plunking cartoonish versions of the four leads into a fantastical and tedious story that even serious fans will have a hard time swallowing. Some will walk out of theaters with gray hairs.

We catch up with the ladies discovering life after happily-ever-after: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) struggles to keep the sparkle in her marriage with Mr. Big (Chris Noth). Charlotte (Kristin Davis), who is stretched thin running and cleaning after two young girls, worries that her voluptuous nanny may be getting a little too much attention from Harry (Evan Handler). Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) juggles family and a new boss who works her like a dog, while Samantha (Kim Cattrall) pops mouthfuls of pills to fight menopause.

No longer their former single selves bouncing among meaningless romances, the foursome now care for one another in a more mature fashion (in other words, practicing the art of reticence), and the new dynamic may not be nearly as fun to watch. Sure, the coffee shop heart-to-hearts are still interlaced with girl talk but there's the sense that these women well into their forties and early fifties have mellowed.

While the actresses shine in reprising their roles, this time King relies on exotic locales to inject big-screen oomph into an aging franchise. Ever the cosmopolitans, Carrie and company get whisked away to Abu Dhabi on a weeklong trip, compliments of a hotelier-slash-sheik. Picturesque sand dunes, first-class private suites aboard Emirates Air, and a fleet of white Maybachs will leave moviegoers ogling at the excess (probably juiced by debt … think Dubai).

Diehard fans of the franchise will also be tickled at the miraculous return of Aidan (John Corbett, looking dashing as ever), the sensitive hippie-carpenter whose heart Carrie ripped to shreds. Carrie ponders a dinner date with Aidan as she, predictably, dithers, seemingly unfazed by the fact that she is now Mrs. Big.

The highlight of the movie, however, is an endearing scene where Miranda and Charlotte lament the realities of motherhood. Noticing a bottled-up Charlotte teetering on the brink of a breakdown, Miranda initiates a cocktail-fueled venting session.

In spite of these small enticements, the sequel hardly lives up to its predecessor, let alone the long-running HBO series. It feels as if King perfunctorily scraped together material for parts of the story, hoping fans would be distracted by shiny new backdrop. The dramedy is structured around a watered-down plot spilling with niggling details big and small, disappointingly paring down substance (in this case the witty banter and costumer Patricia Fields' genius) to make room for blockbuster glitz. Carrie and her friends drop lame puns that borderline lame (think “inter-friend-tion” and “Bedouin Bath and Beyond”) and Samantha's hot-flashes jokes tire quickly. Audiences are sure to be gobsmacked by the haute couture, which doubles as aggressive, impossible-to-ignore product placement for a slew of luxury brands.

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 Sex and the City 2 (慾望城市2) 
In “Sex and the City 2,” we catch up with the ladies discovering life after happily-ever-after: Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) struggles to keep the sparkle in her marriage with Mr. Big (Chris Noth). (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

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