If, after the newspaper columns, the book, the six television series, and the reunion film, audiences still haven't had enough of Sex and the City, they will have by the time they've sat through Sex and the City 2.
For the first half-hour, it's quite enjoyable – self-congratulatory, yes, but bubbling with frothy escapism and spiced with some smart quipping between Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis). But as the film drags on – and on – the puns get more laboured, the characters more shrill, and the outfits get more hideous, until you never want to see these solipsistic, money-drenched Marie Antoinettes again. It's not so much a sequel as a course of aversion therapy.
It's also very, very long: there are coalition governments that don't have its staying power. You may have heard that Carrie and company go on holiday to Abu Dhabi. What you may not have heard is that there's a full hour of scene-setting before they board their private jet, and then a further hour-and-a-half while they're out there. And yet the issues being dealt with by "the girls" (as they insist on calling themselves, contrary to appearances) are minor insecurities which would have been settled in a single episode of the television series.
Instead of a plot, the film gives us aimless scenes of the foursome riding camels through the desert, singing karaoke, shopping in a souk, and generally making you unsure if you're watching a film or a travel programme. Their chief activity, though, is oohing and cooing at the obscene luxury that's laid on for them. They're the guests of a sheik who wants Samantha to promote his resort, and so the writer-director has them ogling their chauffeur-driven limos and seven-star hotel suite, and never once concerning themselves with the human or environmental cost of their conspicuous consumption. Just to compound the tastelessness, the film concludes that the East and West aren't so different, after all, because beneath their burkhas, Arabic women wear the same over-priced American fashions as Carrie does.
I suppose some fans will be happy just to see these beloved characters indulging themselves, but they're not the same characters as on television. Samantha, always a man-eater, is now a one-note, clowning sex addict. Miranda, a supposedly grounded lawyer, now wears just as many extravagant, eye-hurting frocks as Carrie. And Carrie herself spirals into an indignant frenzy if anyone dares disagree with her.
But even if you think you can put up with these monsters, and you decide to see the film, ask yourself this: if the entire 90-minute Abu Dhabi sequence had been cut, except for five minutes of Carrie having dinner with her old flame Aidan (John Corbett), and two minutes of Miranda having a sympathetic conversation with Charlotte about the pressures of motherhood, would the story have lost anything? A flashing caption reading, "Being Rich is Great" would have served much the same purpose.
Rec 2 is a far more palatable sequel in that it's much shorter, much more exciting, and features much more throat-biting by ravenous cannibals. It flings the viewer straight into the action where the previous Rec left off – to wit, a Barcelona apartment building infested by zombies. It also delves into the origins of the zombie virus, picking up hints that were dropped in the open-ended first film, so it feels like an organic second chapter rather than a cash-in. As in Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, we see everything through a participant's video camera, but no other film using this technique has had such relentless intensity, and that includes Rec's American remake, Quarantine.
Alternatively, for a view of the Middle East that's a long way from Carrie Bradshaw's, there's The Time That Remains, in which Elia Suleiman charts his own family's life as so-called "Arab-Israelis" in Nazareth from 1948, when his father was a resistance fighter, to the present day. As grim as it might sound, the film turns out to be a deadpan comedy, a wry, rueful shake of the head that uses impeccably framed, absurdist vignettes to lament the insanity of existence in an occupied territory.
Suleiman, who appears in the later scenes, has been aptly compared to Buster Keaton, and not just because of his unchanging expression, but because The Time That Remains has the precision, economy and verve of a classic silent comedy.
Nicholas Barber sees Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo conning each other in Brothers Bloom
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