Sex and the City 2 transports the four women we came to love (begrudgingly in my case) on SATC on the small screen from their native New York habitat to Abu Dhabi. Bad idea. Riding camels in the desert in their outlandish fashionista get-ups, Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, alas, evoke nothing so much as  The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the campy 1994 Australian movie about the antics of a traveling transgender cabaret. New York, New York is the only hothouse for these flowers.

The two years since the last movie and the six year interlude since the end of the TV series have not been kind to the girls. Of course, they have everything you could imagine. Miranda is a high-powered lawyer, with a son and adoring husband, but her boss doesn’t appreciate her because she’s a woman. Charlotte is married to Harry and has two little girls, but we see the trials she must endure on a daily basis when one of the little girls accidentally ruins her Valentino with red finger paint. Poor Charlotte goes into the closet to sob alone.

Speaking of closets, Carrie has one as big as my living room for her Christian Louboutins and other apparel. She lives in an Architecture Digest-worthy apartment on Park Avenue but frets that the “sparkle” may have gone out of her marriage because husband Big played by sexy Chris Noth, prefers ordering in and watching old movies to hitting the social circuit every night. Carrie and Big have decided not to have children, which is going to leave them with lots of time on their manicured hands. Samantha is a hot publicist-hot in more ways than one. She is battling the onset of menopause, and her hot flashes are a running gag. Covered with yam-based products to stave off the inevitable, Samantha is older but not more mature. She remains obsessed with sex.

The few genuinely funny scenes take place before the girls venture far from their usual stomping ground. A gay wedding in suburban Connecticut has an element of the preachy, but you’ve got to love the all-male chorus in gleaming white formal attire singing “If Ever I Would Leave You.” Less successfully, Liza Minelli emerges from nowhere-Charlotte says Liza “manifests” herself whenever the gay quotient reaches a certain level-to officiate at the wedding. She then performs “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Since the movie deals partly with the topic of women and-ahem-becoming more mature, I offer Liza some advice: Call Elaine Stritch immediately and ask her about aging gracefully.

But how do they get to Abu Dhabi? Samantha has a sheik client who wants her to do some publicity for his swank hotel. She can’t go without her girlfriends, of course, who need holidays from their trying Manhattan lives, and the upshot is an all-expenses-paid holiday for the foursome. The smiling ladies wander mindlessly among the garish wonders of their $22,000 a night hotel suite with idiotic smiles plastered on their faces. They watch a woman in a burka eat French fries and make an Abu Dhabi karaoke bar (I kid you not) rock by taking to the stage to do Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” In the most misogynist society on earth, Samantha and the girls are a hit!

 Some critics have harrumphed that the movie is anti-Muslim. I’d say the movie is too slight for such a charge, and one might actually, if one wanted to take the movie seriously, launch the opposite complaint: The SATC gang seems so captivated by the luxury-each has her own butler and a white Mercedes Maybach to ferry her about the desert-to care that this is a society in which women are without rights. Not too long ago, a woman in the United Arab Emirates reported being gang banged-it was she, not her assailants, who received a life sentence. Western feminists in general tend to look the other way about abuse of women in the Middle East, preferring instead to carp on their own, comparatively minor frustrations. The SATC ladies are no exception. But I almost think this complaint is taking them too seriously. They do prattle about being in “new Middle East,” whatever that means, until Samantha gets arrested for kissing a guy on the beach, and they realize that the new Middle East is very much like the old.  

What they really do in Abu Dhabi is obsess about their New York lives. Carrie runs into an old beau in the souq-“What’s a souq?” Carrie, who’s supposed to be a writer, asks when Miranda suggests that they go to the market-and ends up kissing him. Miranda and Charlotte (always my favorite of the girls-wonder why) get drunk in the private bar-girls, ever think of seeking out a historical site or museum?-and discuss the trials of motherhood. “I have been watching you for months, and I don’t know how you do it,” says Miranda. They both love their children to pieces (which must be easier for Miranda, as Steve is a stay-at-home-dad), but, golly motherhood is tough. You have only to think of that ruined Valentino. As if reading my thoughts, Charlotte sighs, “How do women without help do it?”

“I have no idea,” says Miranda. And, truly, she hasn’t.

 One theme that unites East and West is the notion that women “have no voices.” “It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice,” deep thinker Carrie muses of the women whose faces are veiled. And-mirabile dictum-Miranda has an epiphany: The reason her boss doesn’t want to hear what she has to say is that she is woman. On cue, Carrie stumbles onto a New Yorker magazine featuring a review of her new book. The art is a caricature of Carrie with tape over her mouth. By this time, all but the most dedicated SATC fans must be wishing to tape all their mouths, especially Samanta’s potty mouth. (Samantha finds a romantic interest, a Danish architect, and dubs his “Lawrence of my labia.”)

Okay, so Samantha ends up in the clinker for kissing on the beach, and is sprung by Miranda, but the girls find they must flee in haste because the sheik, now less enthusiastic about Samantha, will no longer pick up the tab. Things only get worse when, on the way out of town, Samantha drops a condom-filled purse in the souq. This has a predictable effect on the guys. A near riot ensues. Here Samantha does, alas, have a voice, and what she seems to be snarling is something like, “It’s who I am.” Unfortunately, it is who she is. 

They are rescued by a bevy of sympathetic Arab women completely hidden in black abayas and heavy veils. Turns out the Middle Eastern women were on the way to a secret room for their book club meetings where they strip their traditional garb and-behold-underneath they are wearing couture. “Louis Vuitton,” says Carrie dreamily.

I don’t know if this scene was meant to say something-under our abayas, we’re just like you shallow Westerners?-or if it was just a plot device to help the foursome, who don the abayas, escape. Back in New York, Miranda finds a new law firm that appreciates women’s voices, Samantha has sex on the beach with “Lawrence” (is this a great country, or what?), and Charlotte finds that Harry hasn’t cheated with the voluptuous Irish nanny (Erin Go Bra-less is actually a great addition to the cast of characters). Carrie is forgiven for kissing an old beau-yes, this is sounding like high school-and Big puts some sparkle into her life by giving her a huge black diamond. I can only imagine she’ll get bored with it and require a sparkle transfusion sometime in the near future.

No doubt, that will provide a plot for SATC 3. Bad reviews have had an effect, but the movie hasn’t bombed at the box office. So undoubtedly this is not the end. Only one plea for the next installment: Don’t leave New York, girls. Anywhere more distant than suburban Connecticut and you’re hopelessly out of your depth.