The HBO series "Sex and the City" was best known as a parade of designer shoes and saucy one-liners, but it also hinted at some dark truths. Fashion was merely a manifestation of female fears: The show's heroines exhausted their money and energy preserving their looks long enough to marry. Their nightmare: to grow old and desperate.

The nightmare has been realized with "Sex and the City 2," a sequel to the 2008 film version. Both were written and directed by Michael Patrick King, a longtime writer for the show who has allowed the characters to ossify into caricatures. Like an aging diva, the movie prances and poses and brays at its own jokes. And when the laughs don't come, it turns insulting and ugly.

The characters, despite entering middle age, haven't changed: Samantha (Kim Cattrall) remains defined by her promiscuity, while Charlotte (Kristin Davis) still clings to prudishness. Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is the career woman whose family pays the price. And Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) remains a despicable materialist, unable to value anything without a label. Financier John "Mr. Big" Preston (Chris Noth) plays her miserably rich husband.

By some contrivance, the women take a freebie vacation to Abu Dhabi, turning the film into a travelogue that is not only inane (Carrie makes puns like "Bedouin, Bath and Beyond") but fake, since the movie was shot largely in Morocco. Here's a possible reason: Among the many glib transgressions against Muslim culture is a scene in which Samantha visibly arouses a male companion in public. (Abu Dhabi reportedly is considering banning the film.)

When Carrie attempts to address female oppression, the irony is almost unbearable. Few things could be less healthy for women than this movie.

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