The full disclosure bit: I haven't seen but a few episodes at most of the six beloved seasons of HBO's Sex and the City, nor did I manage to catch the 2008 feature film continuation thereof. I thus have somewhere in the vicinity of no business whatsoever trying to review Sex and the City 2 - but review it I shall. And I shall beg, in advance, your forgiveness for any howling factual errors that arise from my ignorance. For example, prior to this movie I used to think it was called Sexin' the City, and was about a madam played Sarah Jessica Parker, and her three favorite whores.*

Actually, the movie makes things fairly easy for a newbie in a quick intro in which the main character, relationship essayist Carrie Preston née Bradshaw (Parker), recounts the history of New York B.C. - "Before Carrie", who arrived in 1986. This history segues into a punchy series of flashbacks that show how Carrie met her three BFFs, the shy conservative Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), nervous lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and devouring sexual id Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall, playing the only one of the foursome who's even a little bit likable, largely because she doesn't care at all if we like her). This sequence is terrifically useful to introduce someone to the SatC universe, for it efficiently and definitively establishes the two primary truths that are going to govern the rest of the film:

1) None of these women have any business whatsoever being friends with each other; and

2) Carrie Bradshaw is an insufferable narcissist.

Thus does writer-director Michael Patrick King (one of the series' producers) usher us into a sparkling satire of the idle classes of New York City, a leering and savage indictment of privilege and crass consumerism. Central to this is the barbarically oblivious Carrie, who sputters off with the occasional quip about the fallen economy while demonstrating with her every breath that she has remained utterly untouched by anything remotely approaching economic distress. She's as perfect an indictment of capitalism as any monocled businessman in a Soviet propaganda film from the silent era ever was, for her limitless self-obsession which forbids her from even tangentially sparing a thought for the suffering of another human being, has made her equally obsessed with image and fashion, leading her to amass a seemingly incalculable number of costly dresses and shoes. We can never find it in ourselves to be angry with her, though, for we're too busy laughing at her; she proves that no amount of money, however idly spent, can buy good taste, and so the result of of her frenzied buying is a collection of some of the most unbelievably gaudy costumes ever perpetrated on the human form, as designed by the brilliant comic mind of Patricia Field. Carrie might have more money than God and God's Mom put together, but she will never have brains enough to know that she looks like a mutated plastic flower wandering about and trailing illogical silk bits all over. By reducing this figure of wanton acquisition to the most debased kind of absurdity, King scores a great satirical coup, even if he's ultimately unable to effect any systemic change greater than pointing out that the emperor has stupid clothes.

Hang on, I've just received a note...

Oh, my. Oh, my.

Obviously, the criticism that SatC is nothing but consumerism porn is as old as the series itself, so it's not surprising to me that it turns out to be the case; but dear Christ, is this second feature for the gals ever a horrid slog through 146 of the most stretched-out minutes of the year so far. It's embarrassing; almost as embarrassing as King's blithe statements to the effect of, "My consumerism porn is fine, even though there's a terrible economic blight out there, because they did the same thing during the Depression", which is itself almost as embarrassing as the way that King has the giant swinging balls to show clips from It Happened One Night, and later to quote the film's legendary hitchhiking scene, as though Sex and the City 2 deserves to be thought of even as a pimple on the ass of It Happened One Night, which is, for the record, one of the comedies made during the Depression that's actually aware that there was a Depression on.

So anyway, we watch these women being staggeringly entitled and whining about the shallowest crises known to man ("My rich husband doesn't want to spend every moment of every day socialising!") and it's gross, and then we watch them go to Abu Dhabi and do the same thing, and there's been some chatter about whether the film is racist against Arabs and/or anti-Muslim. Yes, though not as much as e.g. True Lies, and whatever racism can be found in the movie is more a byproduct of Carrie and the girls' rampaging egotism, rather than some concerted effort by Americans to prove that their way of life is better than those awful foreigners'. Even when our plucky New Yorkers stumble into some semblance of awareness that a woman's life in a Muslim country has some noted downsides - and this awareness is connected almost wholly to how much the protagonists are inconvenienced by this sexism - their response is very much in keeping with the air-headed socialite who gives to "a cause" without much caring if the cause changes anything. "Okay, we've liberated all the women of Abu Dhabi - check! Now who wants to ride in a car that costs more than most people's houses?" I had been led to believe that this was all meant to be about "female empowerment", but if that's the case then we're fucked as a culture more than I would ever have thought.

But enough of that: nothing I can say will outperform the definitive takedown of the film, written by Lindy West of The Stranger. It is not the custom to link to another reviewer in one's own review - theoretically, we're not supposed to read other reviews first - but West's essay is one of the most perfect sarcasm bombs I have ever encountered, and I would be doing all of you a disservice if I didn't link to it.

Anyway, Sex and the City 2 is an insulting piece of escapism; not my flavor of escapism to be sure. But even if it were, King cobbles the whole thing together with a distressing lack of energy, letting scenes shuffle along to a groaner punchline without any urgency or momentum. Both New York and whatever Moroccan city stands in for Abu Dhabi are shot with such care that the whole thing might as well have been done in somebody's backyard; the only thing that ever seems to energise him is paying loving attention to the indescribably foul dresses wrapped around Parker for most of the film. Each of the other characters gets at least one chance to wear something equally hideous - a weird sign of the women's solidarity, maybe, that if one looks like a tornado hit a fabric factory, so will they all - but none of them get the same lingering treatment by the camera. Meanwhile, none of those poor jokes, orphaned by their director, seem to have been given the memo that it's not 1998, and it's no longer edgy for women to talk about their sex drive.

It's an exhausting, dreary movie, starting from the opening sequence at a gay wedding that is described as "a gay wedding" about ten thousand times and is full of every "haha teh gayz" joke in the history of the world, and if you can square how crudely reductive - hell, how flat-out homophobic - it all is with the fact that King is himself gay, then you are a brighter thinker than I. All I know is it was a hell of a stilted way to get a far-too-long movie kicked off, and it bottoms out with a truly mortifying cameo by the great Liza Minnelli exactly recreating the music video to Beyoncé's "Single Ladies", a moment that would have been positively transcendent if it were being played for absurdity; but instead, it is played perfectly straight. Somewhere in this world, there is somebody whose lifelong dream has been to see Liza Minnelli covering "Single Ladies" and for that person, you have my pity, but not as much as you have my scorn.