Haughtily plutocratic personae and ignorant cultural summations may be good enough for a $95.3 million domestic gross, but it’s hardly something I can get excited for. How anyone with even the slightest proclivity toward populism – or even a smidgen of humanist cognizance – can stomach this stew of passé puns (“inter-friend-tion,” “Erin Go Bra-less,” and, worst of all, “Lawrence of my labia”) and spatchcocked pop-culture miscellany (did anyone else find Liza Minnelli’s rendition of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" to be incongruously white?) is a bafflement I shan’t solve. And while I would normally be able to appreciate the film’s ostensible application of feminine empowerment, director Michael Patrick King and his band of miscreants are so absorbed in amassing examples of opulence that they woefully chalk up women’s great cultural nexus to high-end faddism. This conceit, however, places an offensively overt emphasis on class elitism, as it assumes that Madison Avenue fashion isn’t an ascribed luxury but a great unifier depending on the ethnicity of its owner. Of equal abhorrence is the impromptu sing-along of “I am Woman,” on which every patron of a posh Abu Dhabi club heartily harmonizes, as if to posit that the concept of gender parity, while beyond the reach of the impoverished market dwellers, can be achieved by saturating other cultures with Western frill.
But its glamorization of economic hierarchies through backhandedly sexist simplicity isn’t Sex and the City 2’s only misstep. King seems to concern his film largely in tradition and, moreover, the consequences of subverting our most steadfastly kept social mores. This all well and good, but he recognizes not the social necessitations that accord such institutionalized tenets in the first place and, instead, callowly compares any and all customs in question to the source work’s progressive sensibilities. Which means that when Samantha’s (Kim Cattrall) purse spews out condoms into a crowded market street, it’s really an extolment of sexual liberation and not an affront on Middle Easterners’ comparative conservatism. And while I’m hardly one to defend archaic oppressiveness in any form, I can’t help but see King’s approach to inter-cultural relations as anything but arrogantly apathetic, as none of his principals, save the bookish Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), even think to use the trip as a way to gain perspective on local custom. This bottled brand of American ignorance is also instilled in Charlotte (Kristin Davis) who, when asked why she registered under her WASPy maiden name instead of her husband’s overtly Jewish one, replies, “It’s still the Middle East.”
Of course, she is right: we can tell by the native garb we see and the calls to prayer we hear, even if no one is shown, well, actually praying. It’s just that this trivializing portrayal of another land is so aggressively Americanized that I’m caused to wonder if there’s anything King can’t commodify. Even the dubiously didactic narration of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) comes off as watered down for commercial sake. Bradshaw, who writes about relationships, offers only assertions of basic schoolgirl profundity when analyzing the affairs of her uncouth cohorts – her on-display intuition lacks the kind of introspection that one would expect from an ink slinger, especially one you’d trust issues of intimacy to. Still, to be fair, this should be foreseen as soon as she describes pre-1986 New York as, “New York B.C.” which happens to stand for, “Before Carrie.” And, ironically, her shrill sense of self-centeredness is actually an apropos summation of the film as a whole: a denial of social schemata by someone too insolent to realize their own obtuseness.
The garish exuberance of the film’s consumerist set pieces – particularly those of sun soaked Abu Dhabi – offer an appropriately ornamental array of colors and this Warner Bros. release doesn’t betray their natural brilliance. That said, contrast is hit-and-miss in terms of consistency and the film’s grain level, while fairly reliable, doesn’t exactly evoke depth like it could. Aural considerations are equally adequate, though never exceptional. Dialogue is for the most part crisp, though at times is skewed toward being overly accentuated. Dynamicism, I’m happy to report, allows for subtle sounds to tickle one’s surrounding speakers without sacrificing its organic ambience. Certainly not showcase worthy but, if you liked the movie, you probably won’t care anyway.