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'Sex and the City 2' ends up being not so sheik

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Like Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), who frets that the "sparkle" has gone out of her two-year marriage to Big (Chris Noth), "Sex and the City 2," based on the long-running HBO series, douses whatever sparkle remains of these beloved characters.

True, three are now married, while the fourth, menopausal Samantha (Kim Cattrall), is now dubbed the Hormone Whisperer. But these life changes are no excuse to shunt the gals into a sparkle-free zone.

Writer/director Michael Patrick King piles on the lame puns and product mentions to the detriment of character and plot development. It may sound like a good idea to take the girls out of the city and plunk them down in Abu Dhabi, where the entire subject of sex is taboo. Yet the conflicts that arise are entirely predictable and highlight the obvious.

The opulence of their hotel in Abu Dhabi, where a sheik has offered Samantha and her gal pals an all-expenses-paid visit, takes their already over-the-top NYC lifestyles and spins them into the stratosphere. The luxurious lifestyle maintained by the ladies over the years, even at the expense of economic logic, might lose some of its fanciful illusion in light of America's economic downturn, and simply appear crass and insensitive to viewers.

Well, at least we still have the fabulous fashions to gaze at, right? Wrong. I don't know what happened to the taste of the characters or costume designer Patricia Field in the intervening years, but the clothes in this movie are no fun at all.

Scenes of Carrie back home with Big hashing out the emergent wrinkles in their relationship are interminably repetitive. In fact, the only scene that contains honest-sounding dialogue is one in which Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) drink and confess their closeted feelings about motherhood. Maybe if the film were at least a half hour shorter, "Sex and the City 2" wouldn't feel as if it had overstayed its welcome. As is, however, the sands drip through its hourglass like Saharan sands though stilettos. "Marjorie Baumgarten

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