Is “Sex And The City 2” The Worst Travel Movie Ever?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Maybe it’s a little unfair to write about Sex and the City 2, a movie I have not seen, or one, for that matter, I have no intention of seeing anytime soon (which, given the recent box office numbers — it barely beat Marmaduke in its second week of release — won’t put me in the minority anytime soon), but it’s been a little hard to avoid the ink spilled over what one reviewer recently called, “an accidental candid snapshot of the sick, dying heart of America.” Ouch.

When I watched the trailer last month, about halfway through when the preview inexplicably took a left turn and announced to the world that the girls would be packing up their Manolos and heading to Abu Dhabi of all places, I though, “Shrewdly placed product placement by the UAE’s tourism agency.” That is until I would later learn that Abu Dhabi wanted nothing to do with the production, forcing the shoot to take place in Morocco instead as a stand-in.

What would follow would be enough cringe-worthy, offensive vignettes in the flick, for the average American to revert to that old Bush-era maxim while traveling, “I’m from Canada,” just to avoid the association.

As the NYT recounts:

Initially Abu Dhabi appears like a paradise to the characters, who stay in a $22,000-a-night suite complete with butlers. But Eden has its price, and, during a visit to a souk, a torrentially sweating Samantha, in the midst of a hot flash, brandishes a fistful of condoms at an increasingly large, enveloping crowd of unsmiling men. The friends escape the crowd with the help of some local women in niqabs, who soon drop their black veils to show off their designer outfits.

I’m already squirming in my seat at the thought of watching all this unfold on the screen. The NYT continues:

[Director] King’s sartorial sisterhood might not recognize cultural divides, but American critics are having none of it. At, Thomas Leupp, under a headline that read, “This Is the New Torture Porn,” wrote that it “could become an effective inspirational video for suicide bombers — provided they can endure the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, of course.” Responding to another scene, in which Samantha is arrested for making like Deborah Kerr on a beach, Steve Persall, of The St. Petersburg Times, wrote: “I can’t say I blame the authorities. Sorry, but when in Rome or Abu Dhabi (or Morocco), you do as the locals do, especially in these times.” Gee, it’s a good thing that Stanford and Anthony decided to stay home.

I would be remiss as this point not to admit that, yes, I actually did see the first movie, if for no other reason than to be able to pick out newly recognizable shooting locations now that I lived in New York (or, at least, this was what I could tell others when I admitted to seeing it — but seriously, this was a good 80% of why I went).

I remember the malaria-like nausea I felt during the extended sequence when the four girls jet off to Mexico — or what we were told was Mexico; I don’t remember them stepping one foot off the ground of the luxury resort (turns out this sequence was filmed in Malibu of all places, sigh) — where they wallowed in their self-pity, avoided the local water (because, as the movie points out, ingest just a tiny bit of scary, foreign shower water itself and you’re likely to be sick), were entertained by “authentic” music — a mariachi band! — and were waited on, hand and foot, by the locals. At least the movie had the good sense to ship them back to New York as soon as possible.

This time around, it turns out the writers actually have the characters — well, Carrie at least — interact with the locals. In one “poignant” scene, as the NYT points out in the same article, the movie actually had a rare chance to tackle the many troubling issues the movie inadvertently dregs up (cultural relativism, social entitlement, economic disparity), but fails at even this:

In one scene, Carrie asks her personal hotel butler, Guarau (Raza Jaffrey), about his family. His wife is back in India, he tells her; he flies home to see her every few months, when he can afford the fare. Carrie looks at him for a moment in silence, and we wonder: Is it possible she’s confronting the unimaginable gulf that separates their two lives, the vast global network of consumption, exploitation, and injustice that’s brought them together in this alien and alienating place? But no: Although she will later do Guarau a good turn, Carrie is merely wondering how she can get Big to appreciate her as much. Perched at the pinnacle of material comfort and social privilege in the waning days of the American empire, she can still find something to pout about.

It’s settled, I’m seeing Marmaduke instead.

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