Can anyone smell dead horse? Not enough that the makers of Sex and the City squandered what remained of the goodwill by cranking out a movie two years ago; now they have gone catastrophically into the red with a sequel that flogs the franchise into oblivion. The extra stink you'll notice derives from its sojourn in a "new and different" capital city, where the one-time fab four try importing their western liberal values – ha! – and cause grotesque offence to their hosts.
You can tell how empty of inspiration it is from the first scene. Requiring a hen-party-size event to kick things off, the film launches itself into a Big Gay Wedding, what's more a wedding between two characters, Stanford and Anthony, who always hated each other in the TV show. Too bad, they're the only gays in the franchise, so marry them off, and have Lisa Minelli conduct the ceremony. Isn't that a scream? (Not when you hear Lisa's voice it isn't). With that out of the way, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) gets down to some serious worrying about her own marriage. On the surface nothing much seems wrong. She and Big (Chris Noth) – or John, as he's now known – have chosen not to have kids, but they love each other, and she's got everything else she wants: money and clothes and a fabulous apartment and a new book coming out soon.
The smallest squeak of discontent comes on their anniversary, when she gives him a vintage Rolex and he gives her... a flatscreen TV in the bedroom. A piece of jewellery would have been nice, she admits, and then starts wondering if the "sparkle" has disappeared from the marriage. Being a Master of the Universe by day, Big wants to put his feet up with a take-away in the evening. Carrie wants to go out and party. (And, by the way, she doesn't like his feet up on the sofa). But when she does drag him out for a night, he ends up flirting with a hot Spanish babe (Penélope Cruz), and Carrie promptly drags him back home. When she decamps to work at her old apartment for two days (yes, she can still afford to keep her old apartment), Big suggests they extend the arrangement and have two days apart from one another each week. Big mistake.
Meanwhile, there's trouble elsewhere in paradise. Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is now attached to someone even more annoying than she is – a toddler who cries all day – and legal-eagle Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) has a boss who can't stand the sound of her voice. Samantha (Kim Cattrall), the oldest of them, seems to be holding it together on a diet of pills and vitamins, which she believes will help her through "the change". Age, and the gravitational pull of age, is the enemy, and will be ever after if they continue squeezing out sequels. The envious looks the friends direct at Charlotte's twentysomething nanny (Alice Eve) focus inevitably on her voluptuous breasts. "There should be a law against having a nanny who looks like that." "Yeah," says Carrie, "the Jude Law." That's the funniest line in the film, by some distance, and I quote it only so that you won't have to sit through the remainder. Because the second half of Sex and the City 2 is all downhill.
Samantha's PR business attracts the interest of a Middle Eastern sheikh, who invites her to bring three friends on an all-expenses trip to Abu Dhabi. At this point I hoped that the sheikh would turn out to be Mazher Mahmood, who, hot from doing a number on the Duchess of York, would expose Carrie et al as the grabbiest bunch of spoilt freeloaders ever to holiday in the United Arab Emirates. But there's no need of him, because the writer-director Michael Patrick King does the job quite adequately on his own. However sickened you might occasionally have felt by the conspicuous consumption and product placement disfiguring SATC, at least the spectacle was confined to Manhattan, where it came with the territory. In Abu Dhabi it looks no more than an excuse for a greedfest, repulsively heralded by the four separate limos that ferry them from airport to hotel. Their suites are shrines to clogged wealth that would make Donatella Versace look understated; once installed there, handsome Arab manservants swarm about, tending to their whims, and costume designer Patricia Field outdoes herself in whipping up "creations" of breathtaking preposterousness.
Costumes become quite significant in this milieu. Abu Dhabi is described to them by the sheikh as "a progressive city of commerce and culture", though once they clap eyes on a woman at lunch in her niqab they begin to realise that it's not that progressive after all. The thread of Carrie's marital discontent is lightly twitched when she runs into old flame Aiden (John Corbett), but the real trouble starts when Samantha lets it all hang out in public and the local men complain to the police. Even if you deplore the sight of women in burkhas and niqabs, you may also feel queasy about a bunch of American tourists behaving just as if they're at home and whining when their personal routine is inconvenienced. The scene of solidarity with the local women at the end is hugely condescending, and merely a belated effort to flog some more product. It evoked horrible memories of Bridget Jones doing that dance routine with the women inmates in a Thai prison. Hardly suprising to learn that the film-makers were non grata in Abu Dhabi itself (the Middle Eastern parts were shot in Morocco). So you see, there's not much good to be said for Sex and the City 2. There will come a point when people won't even feel like saying what a smart and funny TV show it used to be.