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Fashionistas in the big, well-dressed city

Frothy as a Margarita and just as salty, Sex and the City all but mambos its way onto the screen.

In this image released by New Line Cinema, Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Carrie Bradshaw in New Line Cinema's "Sex and the City". (AP)
In this image released by New Line Cinema, Sarah Jessica Parker stars as Carrie Bradshaw in New Line Cinema's "Sex and the City". (AP)Read more

Frothy as a Margarita and just as salty,

Sex and the City

all but mambos its way onto the screen.

The one about the four friends who formerly sought the perfect man and now, more or less happily attached, seek the perfect apartment may well be the most effervescent film fantasy since Beauty and the Beast.

As almost everyone knows, Sex's heroines are bosom buds who imbibe without getting tipsy, eat without gaining weight, enjoy sex (almost) without spreading STDs, shop without maxing out credit cards, and offer mutual support without (intentional) sabotage. When one needs help - to mend a broken heart, to move out of a cluttered apartment - unfailingly the others are available, clad smartly in couture frocks and strappy heels that cost more than your monthly mortgage payment.

We should hate them for overconsumption. We don't, mostly because they're loving, lovable, witty and about as realistic as Barbie.

If they had a motto it would be: Label clothes, not people. (Product placement alert: From Chanel to Diane von Furstenberg, there are more labels here than at a winery.)

Three years or so have elapsed since Manhattan working gals Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha last clinked cocktail glasses. For those unfamiliar with them - and is that anyone watching this movie? - their backstories are telegraphed during a briskly-paced opening-credits sequence.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), the urban anthropologist, has graduated from newspaper columnist to successful nonfiction author - "three books in three years!" - keeping company with financier "Mr. Big" (Chris Noth). As Carrie regards the arrangements of her friends, she and Big contemplate marriage.

Chirpy Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and moody Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) represent marital ying and yang, one a stay-at-home mom enjoying wedded bliss, the other a working mother enduring marital blitz. Saucy Samantha (Kim Cattrall) has moved to Malibu, where she manages the career of (and is faithful to) her much-younger beau, Smith (Jason Lewis).

The clothes, shoes and handbags, not to mention the baubles and bangles, are seductive eye-candy, equivalent to the cars and gadgets in a James Bond movie. These amount to haute couture trimmings on writer/director Michael Patrick King's Cinderella reweave.

When Carrie reads the fairy tale to Charlotte's daughter, she recognizes the source of her longings for the perfect shoe and the perfect Prince. And ruefully acknowledges how Cinderella has programmed her with unrealistic expectations for perfection in footwear and men.

Less a stand-alone movie than a new, 140-minute mini-season of the HBO series, Sex shows how each of the four friends embrace imperfection, rewriting the fairy tale to better fit her own life.

The four women couldn't be better - or better matched. As always, Parker is the standout, cracking your heart and cracking you up with equal ease.

King is a snappier writer than filmmaker, letting the actresses, their clothes and the sparkling Manhattan locations carry the visuals.

As Carrie's personal assistant, a kind of cyber-housekeeper, Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) is the new addition. Sunny and sincere, her casting brings to mind Hattie McDaniels' line that, for black actors, it's better to play a maid than be a maid. Though Hudson's character is never truly part of Sex's sorority, her inclusion brings a note of real-world diversity.

Sex and the City's three flavors of woman - Bridezilla, Mom and Cougar - does not mark significant progress from Hollywood's typical options of witch and sex kitten, but it's one choice more.

And admittedly, Carrie Bradshaw's ambition to have a walk-in closet of her own is definitely a regression, a 21st century downsizing, from Virginia Woolf's room of her own. But the closet Carrie gets is a lulu, larger than many Manhattan apartments and with finishes ordinarily found in royal villas.

Finally, what matters most to Carrie and company isn't getting and spending, but the getting of wisdom and spending time together. After six seasons on television, they gracefully make the transition to the big screen, and the pleasure of their company remains contagious fun.

Sex and the City *** (out of four stars)

Written and directed by Michael Patrick King. With Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth and Jennifer Hudson. Distributed by New Line.

Running time: 2 hours, 20 mins.

Parent's guide: R (nudity, sex, sexual candor, profanity)

Showing at: area theatersEndText