Friday, April 2, 2010

SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE: Blu-Ray (HBO/New Line 2008) Alliance Home Video

Over the last two decades Hollywood has cannibalized the small screen for big screen movie franchises to the point of utter absurdity. This trend began in the late 1980s with a string of cultish recreations of beloved television shows from the 1960s and 70s (The Brady Bunch, The Addams Family, Starsky & Hutch) then, continued with the absorption of 80s pop-u-tainment (Charlie’s Angels, Miami Vice, The Incredible Hulk) and gradually mutated into T.V. ‘tie-in’ movies of then current television series (The X-Files).

However, as a television-to-cinema hybrid Michael Patrick King’s Sex and The City: The Movie (2008) is rather disappointing. Instead of playing as an extension of the highly successful HBO series, the film tends to run on as though it were five, half hour episodes loosely strung together in an attempt to maintain some sort of consistency and our interest.

When last the series left the airwaves sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) had been rescued from a possessive relationship on the banks of the Seine by the ever-elusive matrimonial hunk, John James ‘Mr. Big’ Preston (Chris Noth); a philandering cad who twice before reduced the usually effervescent Carrie into a pile of sobbing blubber.

In Sex and The City: The Movie, Big is at it again. After buying a lavishly appointed penthouse apartment for he and Carrie – and redoing its closet to conform to Carrie’s ever expanding obsessive/compulsive fashionista archive – Big proposes marriage, then chokes on his promise and bolts at the altar, leaving Carrie looking bizarrely stylish in her atrociously expensive ‘Traviata’ wedding gown, complete with a blue bird stuck in her veil and – you guessed it – reduced yet again to another pile of sobbing blubber.

It seems Big’s cold feet stem from a comment made by Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) at the pre-wedding banquet after she has discovered that her own mate, Steve (David Eigenberg) has cheated on her with another woman. Ironically, given the title and premise of the movie, we never get to see this sexual indiscretion that severs Miranda and Steve’s matrimonial bond.

Instead, the first hour of the film is devoted to an endless and nauseating cavalcade of bizarrely unhinged and often tasteless ‘fashion’ costume changes as Carrie searches for the perfect wedding gown.So much for Carrie’s dilemma. In another part of Manhattan the ever optimistic, though obtusely frigid Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) continues to live out a resplendently kosher Cinderella fantasy with Harry Goldenblatt (Evan Handler) and their adopted Oriental daughter Lily (Alexandra Fong).

If these narrative threads in King’s screenplay sound weak to begin with, they positively fall apart with resident slut-factory, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) forsaking her perfect relationship with the perfect pin-up underwear model/turned movie actor, Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis) simply for a chance to pursue another dead end relationship with her next door neighbor, Dante (Gilles Marini) in Malibu; a guy who prefers to shower nude on a landing overlooking the beach. Honestly, who lives like that?!?

What is rather alarming about Sex and The City: The Movie as opposed to Sex and The City: the series is how utterly joyless this excursion tends to be despite the fact that it borrows heavily from the familiarity of the TV show with audiences. Carrie and Big’s break up this time around leaves our heroine shell shocked and sleeping alone at a posh resort in Mexico. Even the girls’ conversations about bodily functions, various sexual positions and other tawdry behavior seem tinged with more than a hint of bitter regret, bitchiness and ennui.

The film retains Carrie’s voice over narration, but only as book ends. In the series, Carrie’s reflections on life, love and great sex have been the main staple that guides our perceptions of the action taking place. We know the other characters through Carrie’s external referencing of them. In the film, Carrie’s comments are neither external nor reflective; merely a regurgitation of what we already know – hence, they are pointless. After Carrie suffers her humiliation with Big at the altar the voiceovers stop abruptly, then remain strangely absent from the film until near its conclusion.

Jennifer Hudson makes a welcomed – if all too brief – edition to the clan as Louise from St. Louis; the friend and personal assistant that Carrie could really have used elsewhere from her wellspring of gals if the others in her self-absorbed set weren’t so wrapped up with their own navel and crotch gazing.Arguably the strengths of the series are the film’s greatest weaknesses and ironically, none are exploited to as good effect in the film as they have been on television.

For example: in the series nudity played as humorous precursor to Carrie’s voice over narrations. The nudity is not present merely to shock or titillate but rather to draw out the obvious foibles and ridiculousness of the story being told.

In the film, sex is gratuitous; Steve ravages Miranda; Samantha lies on a glass table in Smith Jerrod’s beach house covered in nothing but sushi; and – quite frankly – seeing Gilles Marini’s hooded snake in profile and widescreen is a sight this critic could so easily have done without. Bottom line: we’ve seen all this brainless badinage done before, but readily with more savoir faire and light-hearted fun tacked on for good measure. The film, unlike the series, treats sex like a vice rather than a virtue.

Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda; already riding the fringe bimbette element in the series – but miraculously keeping things together long enough to amuse us with their clever resolve and determination - are thrust into full blown ‘stupid airhead’ mode in the film.And then there is the rather obvious imbalance in on screen time allotted each gal. One would think that with a two and a half hour canvas to work with, that the film would do as much girl bonding as possible. Not so.

Not surprising, Parker’s Carrie gets the lion's share of running time – such as it is. Still, its’ rather disheartening to see so little of Cattral’s Samantha Jones, relocated in the film to a west coast abode from which King’s screenplay desperately tries to find reasons to have her fly back into town for regular dishing of the latest dirt.

The men of Sex and The City: the series were never the series strength, but they were an integral part to its humor. Regrettably, there is all too little humor to go around in this movie. As proof, the series reoccurring gay characters Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) and Anthony Marentino (Mario Cantone) are barely glimpsed in the film. Yet, in the film Mr. Big gets a lot of play time – too much in fact; thereby relegating the other relationships and characters to tertiary cameos at best.

In the series, Miranda was given enough time so that her character – abrasive, though it is – could come across as no nonsense and somewhat sympathetic in all her harried frustration. In the film however, she is merely ‘the bitch’ and the catalyst for destroying Carrie’s initial chance at marital bliss with Mr. Big.

In the final analysis, Sex and The City: The Movie is surface sheen extravagance at best. King’s screenplay relies too much on audience identification with the series to sustain these old acquaintances for 2 ½ hours. We are expected to remember all of the series memorable moments in order to relate to these characters in the film. The trick doesn’t quite work. After all, the gals are older now and thus ought to be wiser as well. Inserting snippets from the series when their struggles were fresher and funnier only serves to reiterate just how far the series has come and how much further removed the incidents in the film seem to be from what we best remember in the series.

In fact, the opening title sequence begins with snippets from various episodes in the series – a sort of Sex and the City…the good years’ travelogue - though nothing short of a solid plot (which the film desperately lacks) can stop these recollections from sinking under the featherweight ridiculousness of the movie’s central theme. Experiencing a good movie may very well be like having great sex, but this film is neither.

Alliance/New Line’s Blu-Ray easily bests its standard DVD. Color fidelity and fine details take a quantum leap forward. Contrast levels are bang on. Blacks are deep and solid. Flesh tones appear quite natural on the Blu-Ray while looking rather pasty on the DVD. The audio is an aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital with a very powerful sonic spread across all channels; giving the pop music soundtrack its due wherever and whenever possible. Extras include a brief 'making of' and commentary track that is self congratulatory at best.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
2

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