Sex and the City (15)

A girls' night out too far
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The Independent Culture

They just couldn't leave it alone, could they? Having nailed their success on the small screen with a sharp tap of a Manolo heel, the makers of Sex and the City have hauled on their seven-league boots and stomped to the gates of the multiplex. Should you spot a hen-party roistering around your way anytime soon, chances are it's heading towards this movie. Will they have a good time? Well... does Pinocchio have wooden balls? It's really a super-sized version of the TV show, primped and coiffed and trademarked to within an inch of its life. If it were any more taut with product placement you'd hear it go "twang" from here to Manhattan. Those who don't like watching ads in the cinema should keep well clear.

Should anyone else? The easy answer here would be "all blokes", but I have to confess I laughed my socks off at the show most weeks, at least until the final season. On form, it was wittily scripted and fast-paced; it gave slick repartee a good name and it was candid about sex (if not the city) in a way few other American sitcoms have ever been. For those unfamiliar with the show, however, the first hour of the movie might make them wonder what all the fuss has been about. Once the dutiful catch-up montage is over and the film has its ducks in a row – sassy Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), sarky Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), saucy Samantha (Kim Cattrall), soppy Charlotte (Kristin Davis) – we are straight into a story that might as well be called My Big Fat Credit Card Wedding, starring Carrie Bradshaw.

Watch the Sex and the City trailer

The TV series always did cater towards the fairy-tale end of Manhattan singledom, but for the big screen the fantasy element seems to have been juiced with steroids. Carrie's on-off boyfriend Big (Chris Noth) – now known as "John" – has not only bought them a baronial penthouse , he has had a giant closet built to house all of Carrie's clothes and her Imelda Marcos-sized collection of shoes. Oh, and he's asked her to marry him.

So everything is peachy for Carrie – or "fabulous", as they like to say in Manhattan. In voiceover, she reminds us that every young woman coming to the big city is looking for the two "L"s – labels and love – and I'm afraid it's the labels that bully the screen-time here. When Carrie first plans her wedding she proudly appals her couture-mad friends by showing them the simple white vintage jacket and skirt she intends to wear for the big day. But naturally that won't fly for the film's producers (Parker is one of them, incidentally) who've got sponsorship deals aplenty, and soon Carrie is dumping her lovely vintage outfit for a "statement" wedding dress that has been personally mailed to her by a major London designer (I'm damned if I'm naming another of them in this column).

Once it was just Manolos – now it's a Fifth Avenue jamboree. As the film proceeds, costume designer Patricia Field gets completely Carrie-d away, her designs becoming sillier and uglier by the scene. Did anyone not think that Carrie's Greek-goddess look was a bit grand for lunch? And who imagined it would be "fun" to dress her like a comedy Russian spy for a trip to the chemist?

I was also disappointed that Carrie, like everyone else, has now got a mobile phone – another dab of individuality lost – which the story uses as a contrivance to set up the groom's sudden dose of cold feet. The screenplay, by Michael Patrick King (an SATC stalwart who also directs), is at its weakest when it deals with romantic rupture, first by massively overplaying Carrie's reaction – don't they know this woman? – and then by ignoring the achingly obvious route to nuptial reconciliation.

The same might be said of Miranda's nuclear response to poor old Steve (David Eigenberg) on hearing him confess an infidelity; if this is how she reacts to a one-night stand, one quivers to think how she'd cope with a real crisis. Samantha, untypically sex-starved here, gets some of the best lines, including one about bikini waxing ("I didn't realise you were starting a national forest down there"), and puts on a brave face when they bring out the 50th-birthday cake. Charlotte gets the shortest end of the stick, which, given her eternal drippiness, is not such a bad thing. Full marks to Kristin Davis, all the same, for being the butt – in both senses – of the film's most humiliating gag. It's good to know that even in an allegedly sophisticated milieu such as this, a poo joke still gets the biggest laugh.

Outside of its small-screen home Sex and the City looks to be punching above its weight. As a TV confection it could be both sweet and sharp, and if the formula didn't quite work in one episode, hell, it only lasted 40 minutes. There was always another one next week. The stakes have been rather galumphingly raised for its film outing, and I found myself alternately amused and sickened.

King knows how to write smart one-liners and throwaway gags, but too often the film screeches to a standstill as it pimps more merchandise – one fashion-show sequence features Carrie breathily reciting a list of couture names that seems to last longer than the catalogue of ships in the Iliad. What's more, it stretches out the running time; there is simply no good reason for this film to last two hours and 25 minutes. "Leave them wanting more" is one of the wisest of showbiz maxims. Let's hope that, having ignored it once, the SATC crew hear the penny drop.