JUST AS I could never fully fathom why any guy would watch "Sex and the City" with the sound on, I can't imagine why someone who'd never seen - and loved - the HBO version would bother lining up for the film, which in some venues opened at 12:01 this morning.

(Clearly, fortysomething women are the new Jedi.)

TV fans, and those who serve them, often talk about big-screen versions of their favorite shows, but there's a reason it's mostly just talk: It's hard to take something as intimate as a TV show and blow it up on the big screen.

The temptation to use the extra money to blow up everything in sight is often just too great.

So when I say that the movie "Sex and the City" is more like a really big episode - and, yes, a really Big episode, too - than it is like a movie, I mean that in the best possible sense.

Writer and director Michael Patrick King, who knows "SATC" better than any outsider ever could, has drawn on all the elements that made the show a pop-culture touchstone for six seasons in putting together a satisfying story that any woman who hasn't downed too many pre-theater Cosmos should be able to stick with till the very end.

And even at two hours, 25 minutes, he's done it in maybe a third of the time it would have taken him on HBO.

So while he's done away with much, if not all, of the never-very-illuminating voiceover by Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), he's managed to incorporate a couple of new catch phrases (you'll know them when you hear them) and parted with yet another tantalizing bit of information about Mr. Big (Chris Noth).

He's also hung on to the show's Life Lessons, which are struck as regularly as a gong, and with equal subtlety.

Each of the four principals - Carrie, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) get one or two fabulous moments apiece, and at least one deeply humiliating one.

Though we tend to focus more on the shoes, masochism always run as deep through "Sex and the City" as through most romance novels. If we don't question why our heroines must be hurt before they can be healed, the answer may lie in "Cinderella," the story Carrie reads to Charlotte's daughter.

Even the warrior Samantha's not impervious to the pain men dish out - often almost inadvertently - in "SATC," but at least she doesn't take it lying down.

Or not for long. I have a feeling that no one who sees this movie will ever look at sushi quite the same way again. *

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