Sandy, bitches

Posted on 26 May 2010 at 5:59pm
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Queens of the desert — Carrie & Co. dabble in Abu Dhabi; across the Persian Gulf, an unlikely Arab Gyllenhaal aims for action star cred

DANCING, QUEENS | Karaoke in couture? What else would you expect from ‘Sex and the City?’

3.5 out of 5 Stars
SEX AND THE CITY 2
Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon.
Rated R. 145 mins. Now playing wide release.

You have to hand it to the makers of Sex and the City 2 for both knowing their audience and apparently not caring if anyone — even their target demo — doesn’t love every bit of it. This sequel, based on the iconic HBO series once described on The Simpsons as show "about four women who act like gay men," starts off with a gay wedding and gets progressively gayer from there. Geometrically so. To the point where Liza Minnelli turns up to sing a version of "Single Ladies." And that’s just in the first 10 minutes.

Not a Liza queen? Don’t cotton to the whole gay marriage trend? Hate the presumption that gay men cheat even after exchanging vows? Who cares. Sex and the City was never about being politically correct: It was about being profoundly, uniquely superficial.

Witness, the central conflict in the film: Whether Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker, a fascinating combo of horsey features and defiantly unconventional glamour) and her hubbie, Big (Chris Noth), are becoming a boring, safe married couple because they got a TV in the bedroom and only dine out five days of every seven. When I was a kid we called these "white problems," and we mocked the tragedy of them — what do you do when your thoroughbred’s race is the same weekend as a Kennedy wedding? Decisions, decisions.

But let’s be frank: While the trials that Carrie and her best girlfriends Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are hardly comparable to having a spouse in Iraq or dealing with your worthless subprime mortgage, in the universe of Prada and Buddakan and Tiffany and full-time nannies that is the hyper-rich world of these Manhattanites, the issues are real for them — as real as whether Iron Man will find a mineral to power his artificial heart before he’s poisoned. Fantasy is fantasy, even if it comes in slingback Jimmy Choos.

Truth be told, the trailers for Sex and the City 2 made me worry it would go off the rails: Were they really moving the girls from the Upper East Side to the Middle East? Who wants to see Samantha in a sari? But the expansion works, just like the jaunt to Mexico in the first one did, or the series’ finale’s Paris excursion. The Abu Dhabi locales where the girls spend much of the second half of the film is like Vegas without all the neon, an unexplored realm that ups the ante of conspicuous excess.

(It also makes practical sense to move the action there. Cattrall appears to have has more work done to her than the Brooklyn Bridge, and as long as they were gonna need so much petroleum jelly for her lens, might as well go to where petroleum is cheap.)

Writer-director Michael Patrick King — who in the last film didn’t bat an eye at letting the world gawk at Gilles Marini’s junk — knows how to pander with a brazen joie de vivre: We get to see the muscled, well-tanned asses of two hot men, closeups of bulging Speedos and saucy, slap-yo-mama one-liners spoken unapologetically by a cast that has honed quick-witted banter to high art. So what if it’s all in service to a glitzy exterior — albeit one with brains and a soft-spot for bored rich folks? As Carrie might say, "You could do worse."

2.5 out of 5 Stars
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Artherton, Alfred Molina.
Rated PG. 115 mins. Opens today in wide release.

Let us not become too preoccupied with the reasons why so many of the Arabs in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time are blue-eyed, British-accented (even the Americans) palefaces. Indeed, it seems that the only actors who actually look like they know what a Mosque is are fodder for the fusillade of arrows.

IS THAT A SCIMITAR IN YOUR HAND OR ARE YOU JUST GLAD TO DECAPITATE ME? | We wish we could quit Jake Gyllenhaal as a British accented Arab in ‘Prince of Persia,’ a juvenile FX wet dream.

Let us also not linger on the excessive — nay, profane — use of slo-mo shots. If the film were played in real time, I suspect it would run 20 minutes shorter. We also need not concern ourselves with the film’s video-game roots, and how the action sequences often follow the linear, up/down movement of a joystick with the triangle and X keys held down simultaneously. This is, after all, a Disney film with its primary audience teens, ‘tweens and those older in body if not in age. Think of it as Pirates of the Arabian.

No, forget all that. Instead focus on this: Why is Jake Gyllenhaal’s gym-sculpted body too often hidden behind cloaks and scarves when his ripply shoulder muscles are the stars of the poster? His bouncy gymnastics only take us so far; let’s see some skin.

I don’t think it’s being superficial to ask this. Like Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia is not a piece of art, but of commerce, and there’s no reason not to market it with craven attention to what sells to a particular audience.

If the film had more to offer — by way of plot, or attitude, or humor, or even detailed attention to its own mythology, the way the first two Mummy movies did — maybe I wouldn’t have spend so much clockwatching time. But the end actually betrays its mythology in service of an expensive but ultimately ugly effects sequence that may satisfy those who don’t care about story and only want to be wowed. But even that wow is muted by its over-the-topness. If Robin Hood is too esoteric and adult in its approach to its source material, Prince of Persia is too juvenile.
 
The movie feels like it was made backwards, from the imagery to the ideas. I can’t imagine how many long-distance shots there are of men standing on remote perches, as if "all roads lead to buttes" is a legitimate motto of ancient Mesopotamia. Sorry, but just because it looks cool doesn’t mean you should do it.

I can’t say I expected much more out of a Jerry Bruckheimer production, even with a director like Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) on hand and the promise of Gyllenhaal taking on his first heroic leading man role. But one still hopes. Maybe next time, I’ll just rub a magic lamp and wish for something better. That’s a situation where you couldn’t do worse.           

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 28, 2010.

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