Knight at the Movies Archives
Gay men rejoice - the SATC ladies are back! Liv Tyler stars in a creepy remake of Them, an even creepier French chiller
Four years after hanging up its designer duds Sex and the City the iconic TV series is back, this time in a big screen edition.
Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte have certainly aged well enough (as have the ladies playing the iconic quartet, Sarah
Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall, and Kristin Davis) but time has not been quite as kind to out writer-director Michael
Patrick King’s beloved creation. The reunion is fun and predictably fabulous – The fashions! The shoes! The hot boyfriends! The
funny gay best friends! The female bonding! – but the movie eventually totters on its expensive Manolo Blahnik’s, trying to stay
upright for too long, gorging on too much of a good thing. The chiffon thin storylines (all four of them) are awfully predictable and
even with three fashion montages, 400,000 haute couture outfits, and one really hot new piece of naked male eye candy (one Giles
Marini), Sex and the City the movie starts to wear out its welcome before the de rigeur cosmos finally make their appearance.
Episodes of the series, the equivalent of a perfect one nighter, were in and out in 30 minutes, while the movie clocking in at 142
minutes squanders its urban fairytale good will by simply hanging around too long. Fun and frothy as it is, fleet of foot it’s not.
But before the movie turns into the fashion model that won’t leave the runway, Carrie & Co. are just as fun to hang with as they
always were and the movie quickly drew me back into the fold. As Parker in voice over brings us up to date on the characters during
the clever opening credit sequence I was remembering why I loved the series so much. They had me at the first designer outfit and
the appearance of Big (Chris Noth), Carrie’s long time, hunky love interest. King understands very well that this is a movie (like the
series) that revolves around objectification and conspicuous fantasy consumption. It really is the ultimate urban chick flick/gay
It’s “three books and three years later” as Big and Carrie, still not betrothed, decide to move in together. Big buys Carrie the dream
New York apartment – a lavish penthouse – and seals the deal with a Joan Crawford sized closet for her endless outfits and shoes
(the building agent is played by out actor Malcolm Gets). Miranda, meanwhile, is coping with marriage to cutie pie Steve (David
Eigenberg), motherhood and her intense career. Charlotte is raising the little Asian girl she adopted with Jewish husband Harry (Evan
Handler), and Samantha has moved to LA with her gorgeous boy toy Smith (Jason Lewis) and turned him into a TV star.
Carrie gets nervous (naturally) about giving up her apartment (read: independence) without a wedding ring and without batting an
eye Big agrees to get married. “You’re a great man friend,” Carrie squeals to Big but the impending nuptials quickly become perfect
fodder for a “Bridezilla” episode. Carrie’s Vogue editor (Candace Bergen) wants her to appear in their “age” issue as the example of
the perfect 40 year-old bride and faced with all the designer wedding gowns, Carrie can’t resist and King, knowing his audience,
brings on the first of the fashion montages – the bridal gown photo shoot to die for.
King also knows that the audience demands a price from their modern day Cinderella – she must give up some happiness (at least
temporarily) in exchange for all the fairytale trappings. As the wedding plans grow larger so does Big’s anxiety until finally he
literally leaves Carrie in her Vivienne Westwood gown and bluebird of happiness hair accent (stuck to the side of her Bride of
Frankenstein hairdo) at the altar (in a sequence that is stupefying in its unbelievability –it’s a real groaner – the movie’s biggest
The movie, like Carrie, takes a while to recover from this over the top sequence but more fashion montages, a side trip to Mexico
with the gals, and focusing on the other ladies and their problems helps. Miranda is trying to forgive Steve for cheating, Kristin is
pregnant and Samantha is bored with California in general and her relationship with Smith in particular and pines for the stud next
door (Marini) she sees boffing a series of sexy bimbettes. As these stories play out, Carrie gets her apartment back, gains an
assistant named Louise (Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson in her first screen role since her Oscar winning turn in Dreamgirls), and slowly
opens her heart to the idea of forgiving Big.
Sadly, Hudson’s role only offers her a few opportunities to bring her signature sass to the part and though she’s called Carrie’s
“assistant” it’s still the maid role and she’s stuck putting away the clothes, fixing up Carrie’s website, lusting after the luxuries of the
nice white lady who takes them for granted as part of her due, and consoling Carrie over the loss of Big. There are uncomfortable
reminders in the relationship of the one between Lana Turner and Juanita Moore in Imitation of Life. Why couldn’t King have added
someone to the SATC quartet who could hold her own and bring something to the party like “Ugly Betty’s” evil fashion doyenne
Wilhelmina Slater (so expertly played by Vanessa Williams)? Hudson certainly could have played that just as easily as this cow
eyed, “I came to New York for love” thankless part.
All the subplots occur as we go through a fantasy of New York seasons, thanks to the art department, but King is smart enough to
know that eventually things need to head back to the inevitable –– will Carrie and Big finally make it to the alter? Like the TV show,
without all the window dressing there’s really no “there” there to the movie without this central conceit (Carrie and Big are like a
fictionalized version of the love obsessed couple in the documentary Crazy Love – though the acid being thrown in the woman’s eyes
only happens metaphorically in SATC). Any fan of the show can tell you without seeing a frame of the film what the last, “secret” 20
minutes are going to involve and on that score King is smart enough to keep the fans happy.
For all the quibbles, with some judicious cutting Sex and the City the movie would have had just the right zip (though more laugh time
for Mario Cantone and Willie Garson as the gay best friends would have been nice) but even at the pumped up length the movie still
has plenty of fizz (and Aaron Zigman’s Latin-lite score utilizing the show’s ubiquitous theme music helps). There’s still enough of a
cosmo buzz in this Sex to recommend you order it up.
Seeing the phrase “Inspired by true events” accompanied by ominous, creepy music at the outset of a movie is a time honored
tradition that leads audiences to expect that what will follow is going to frighten the bejusus out of them. The Strangers, a
remake of an expert French thriller called Them, certainly does that and it goes one better. As we see two young boys discover a
morning after crime scene of bloody gore something else appears on the screen: “No one knows exactly what occurred in 2005.” Uh-
oh – looks like luscious Liv Tyler and hunkalicious Scott Speedman, the stars of the movie, are in for a night of personal hell at the
expense of giving the audience a good, old fashioned creepfest.
Writer-director Bryan Bertino delivers just that but this being an American remake of a foreign film what happens to this young
couple is ramped up with music, false scares, and of course more blood (knives and shotguns are the weapons of choice here). A
straight forward, non-linear thriller apparently is not enough for American audiences. We must have back story, front story, layers of
emotion dolloped on to the suspense. This is an old saw, something that happens over and over again when Americans remake
foreign films (though the recent Funny Games, by all reports, didn’t alter a thing from its German forebear).
Now this is not necessarily a bad thing (I actually preferred the Hollywood version of The Vanishing) and this gussied up version of the
French original follows essentially the same path and works quite well: a young couple is terrorized at a remote home in the country
in the late night hours for no apparent reason by a trio of masked young thugs. After attending a wedding reception, Tyler and
Speedman as James and Kristen return to the isolated home in the country where they are staying. It’s apparent as the couple pulls
up to the house that something’s gone wrong. She is tearful, he is terse. It quickly develops that his proposal of marriage has
been rejected. In the midst of trying to deal with the emotional fallout, at 4:30 in the morning, there’s a knock at the door. A
young woman, whose face isn’t glimpsed, because the light bulb in the porch light has been unscrewed, asks for someone who
doesn't live there. As Tyler cowers behind Speedman, who sends the girl away, we know that this duo have made a huge mistake.
Who opens the front door to ANYONE at 4:30 in the morning?
But blithely, Speedman offers to go out and get Tyler a fresh pack of cigarettes (um, from where?) leaving Tyler alone. Then the
funny games begin in earnest. Tyler, who does well with her scream queen part and looks ravishing, does all the things you’re not
supposed to do when the trio starts to escalate the scary tricks (allowing the audience to titter like mad at every dumb dumb
mistake she makes). When Speedman returns things go from bad to worse and finally, turn deadly. There are many, many
moments in the movie where the audience is ahead of the terrorized twosome onscreen (and the murderous thugs as well) making
the movie not nearly as fresh and inventive as one might hope (by contrast, the no-nonsense couple in the original never seemed
to have “victim” signs taped to their foreheads and gave as good as they got).
Though I much preferred the efficient, murderous simplicity of Them (it’s on DVD from Dark Sky Films – put it in your queue) for
those who haven’t seen it, The Strangers is a nice little fright fest and perfect date fare to boot.
Sex with Strangers:
Sex and the City-The Strangers
Expanded Edition of 5-30-08 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*The Strangers screened after my column deadline but in time for me to include it here