rated R (A, L, N, S) | starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattral, Kristen Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, Alice Eve | written & directed by Michael Patrick King | 2:26 mins

Two years into their marriage and Carrie Bradshaw-Preston (Sarah Jessica Parker) is afraid that she and hubby John (Chris Noth) are becoming a boring old married couple, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) feels marginalized and unheard at her firm and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) is afraid that the new nanny (Alice Eve) might be too tempting for her husband. With all of this relationship baggage in tow, Samantha (Kim Cattral) flies the girls out royal class on a week-long vacation to live in the lap of luxury in Abu Dabi, the “new Middle East”. But cultural misunderstandings and the return of an old flame make the vacation less than relaxing for the city girls.

I came to Sex and the City 2 cautiously pessimistic. As a fan of the original HBO series (my love for it on the record in Sex and the City), I couldn’t help but feel slapped in the face by Michael Patrick King’s first big-screen adaptation of the show. A torrentially long mashup of several episodes, 2008’s Sex and the City took everything that was sweet and intelligent and refreshing about the series and turned it into just another romantic comedy. For better or worse, Sex and the City 2 is not just another romantic comedy. While it still doesn’t quite capture the best of the show, 2 is a ridiculously good time.

From the very beginning, the movie takes us right out of reality and seemingly into another universe. After a brief look at the girl’s in 80s fashion we are thrown head-long into the gay wedding to end all gay weddings of the girls’ BFFs Stanford and Anthony. It’s a bizarre spectacle involving swans and Liza Minelli as the officiator (who doesn’t seem to notice Stanford and Anthony are both men until the reading of the vows). That pretty much sets the tone for the sequel. It’s big, loud, brash, in your face, gharrish and a wholly absurd. And I waited for dissapointment that never came.

It isn’t that most reviews of all things Sex and the City don’t seem to “get it”. It’s that they don’t appear to see what is right in front of their faces. City does most of the same things other movies do. It has anti-heroes you don’t exactly root for, it has characters who do things you don’t agree with and it has women who lust over furniture, clothes and shoes the way movie men lust over golf, beer, cars and football. Its ironic, it’s satirical, it’s full of human flaw. Carrie in particular is in rare form in this movie, barking at Big over the purchase of a TV set, narrating it as if we’re on her side and then retiring to her apartment for a week only to act appalled when he suggests he do the same once in a while. It isn’t often in a romantic comedy when a women asks if she is a b***h wife and the audience can clearly answer “yes”. The movie works in this regard as the show always had, because it does a fine job of rounding out the men instead of just making them jerks. Chris Noth continues to be one of my favorite parts of the show, more than able to balance out his wife’s occasional rants and stick up for the everyman who just wants to settle down. Noth is always a blast to watch in the crowd scenes with all the girls.

Story-wise, King has calmed down and gotten his ducks all in a row for this film. City 2 actually feels like a smooth, thought-out movie this time instead of several episodes crammed together. It is still an epically long movie, but King has enough material to fill the running time this go round. That includes whisking the girls out of New York to Abu Dabi. At first their lavish palace surroundings would seem perfect for these 4 pampered women, but it isn’t long before he has their free-spirited, sexually uninhibited nature running afoul with the more puritan and modest Middle Eastern mentality. It’s a combustable, potentially dangerous culture clash satire and a bold move to have four established fictional characters wander ignorantly through the Middle-East mocking east, west and themselves in the process. King keeps it all light as to not pull us out of the fantasy. In fact, it turns into a full-on old-fashioned Hollywood farce in the climax when the girl’s don full-length Middle-Eastern garb and race through the village to the airport so they don’t get bumped from first class to… (gasp) coach.

For a show about a deep-rooted friendship, the first Sex kept the girls apart far too often, involved in their own separate storylines. King has also gone back and corrected one of my biggest problems with the first movie and has the girl’s interacting together nearly all the time. While I could have taken Sex 2 as entertaining escapism, it won me over entirely as something better during one scene in which Miranda and Charlotte share a cocktail at the bar and Miranda finally coaxes Charlotte to reveal her true feelings about motherhood. Finally, the girls are honestly talking to each other again.

I wouldn’t say that the movie’s outlandishness is anchored in reality, but I can say that the themes of the show come out again here. This time we have Big and Carrie inside the tradition of marriage, trying to reshape it to suit their lives. The movie starts with a spot-on observation about how married couple hassle other married couples into having children and then bucks the traditional movie story arch. For all of the bad sex puns from Samantha, there are also several good one-liners, like Big talking about how not having kids gives them the luxury to design their lives or Samantha pointing out that men in America are not much different then men in the Middle-East. In a field of mostly brainless assembly line romantic comedies, Sex and the City 2 has ideas. Like what it has to say or not, but it is a force to be reckoned with.

If Sex and the City 2 is a romantic comedy it’s certainly one of the most bizarre ones I have ever seen. For the better. It’s a big, loud, sparkling, brash trip to wonderland.  A movie about excess of pure excess. About traditions that breaks traditions. King hits it out of the park on the 2nd try, pulling out the stops to put these established characters out on a hugely entertaining movie-sized adventure. Fans will probably think it’s too over-the-top and non-fans won’t be able to get behind the selfish characters so while I’d highly recommend the movie, I’m just not sure to who I’d recommend it.