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Sex and the City, Priceless: ***



Watching Sex and the City (*** out of four) makes me want to strangle hookers. They should gas theaters when the movie opens. The fans are bitches with vaginal dryness. The world will be a better place without SATC fans; a more shallow and morally deprived group of despirate [sic] losers you won't meet.

Those are just a handful of the countless comments posted online by fanboys, those mega-geeks who make any self-respecting male contemplate a sex-change operation lest he be mistaken for one of these pathetic creatures. Threatened by the mere thought of women as independent, intelligent beings, these sad sacks have spent the last several weeks clogging movie message boards with taunts and insults, unreasonably disturbed by the fact that -- Heaven forbid! -- the multiplexes will be showing at least one film not starring superheroes, swashbucklers or serial killers. (My favorite has to be some goober calling himself "spiritwarriorforholytrin"; at the Internet Movie Database -- -- he's posted over 50 comments on message boards for Iron Man, The Strangers, etc., urging like-minded simpletons to wage war against these "piece of trash sluts in the city.")

Anyone who's ever bothered to watch the acclaimed HBO series can realize that this motion picture sequel-of-sorts need not be the exclusive property of women and homosexuals. Certainly, with its frequent emphasis on eye-popping fashions, it can qualify as female-oriented porn in the same way that Transformers hardware might cause erections in fanboys, but at its heart, the show was about the necessity of enduring friendships and how they can serve as an anchor in a roiling sea of emotional upheavals. Based on the book by Candace Bushnell, the series cannily focused on four New Yorkers who ideally represented different types of women: inquisitive Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), perpetually horny Samantha (Kim Cattrall), brainy, brittle Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and reserved, constantly upbeat Charlotte (Kristin Davis). The show ended with the characters either married or in settled relationships, and the movie picks up several years after that point.

That right there has changed the dynamic of the product, since the fun of watching these four single gals whoop it up in the Big Apple has by necessity been curtailed to focus on their triumphs and travails as attached women. Thus, Carrie is preoccupied with her upcoming marriage to longtime beau Mr. Big (Chris Noth); Samantha valiantly resists the call of the penis as she struggles to remain faithful to her hunky if frequently unavailable boyfriend Smith (Jason Lewis); Miranda contends with issues of infidelity as they relate to her husband Steve (David Eigenberg); and Charlotte is content with her life with hubbie Harry (Evan Handler) and their adopted daughter.

Superior to most of the year's big-screen rom-coms, Sex and the City works because its ability to mix real-world issues with reel-world fantasies interestingly provides it with both gravity and buoyancy. The rawness of the Miranda-Steve situation serves as an effective counterpoint to Samantha's comic ogling of a hunky, horndog neighbor (Gilles Marini), and the contrast elevates both plot threads. In fact, writer-director Michael Patrick King humanizes all of these characters far more than detractors insist: At the end of the day, Carrie seeks lasting love more than anything superficial, so how is her perennial desire for designer shoes any more offensive than any given guy's ceaseless longing for a kick-ass home entertainment center?

To be sure, the movie makes a few missteps. I really didn't need the running gag of a dog that humps everything in sight -- perhaps this juvenile display is a sop to fanboys who accidentally wander into the wrong theater? And the new character of Louise, Carrie's personal assistant, is not only unnecessary but, worse, reveals that without any showstopping tunes to hide behind, Dreamgirls Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson might not possess an ounce of acting talent.

For the most part, though, the movie is likely to satisfy faithful followers of the cable show, and even select newbies should enjoy this break away from the summer season's more clamorous offerings. As for the fanboys, they really should do something more beneficial to humankind than attacking female-centric films every chance they get -- ever hear of that proverbial long walk off a short pier?

THE WOMEN of Sex and the City look like Mother Teresa when compared to Irene, the protagonist of the French import Priceless (*** out of four).

Promoted by the studio as the modern-day counterpart to Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly (though the film itself evokes Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges more than Blake Edwards), Irene (played by Audrey Tautou) floats around the French Riviera looking for wealthy men to pamper and provide for her. Her current, older suitor Jacques (Vernon Dobtcheff) has agreed to marry her, but out of boredom, she has a fling with a young millionaire named Jean (Gad Elmaleh). Alas, it's a case of mistaken identity: Jean is actually a bartender at the resort, and Irene is furious after Jacques dumps her and Jean (now unemployed for sleeping with a guest) is unable to provide for her. Hopelessly smitten, Jean remains in her orbit even after she lands another sugar daddy (Jacques Spiesser), and once he finds himself the companion of an older woman (Marie-Christine Adam) who mistakes him for a gigolo, Irene softens and begins to teach this novice the rules of the game -- basically, milk benefactors for all they're worth.

The P.C. Patrol can feel free to tut-tut at the characters' morals, but Priceless is such a charming romantic comedy in the fairy-tale vein (a la Pretty Woman) that any ill will would be seriously misplaced. After being drained of all personality for her role in The Da Vinci Code, Tautou regains her Amelie effervescence, while The Valet's Elmaleh again displays an easygoing rapport with his own comic intuitions. Add to this frothy mix some gorgeous shots of the French Riviera, and Priceless proves to be a steal at any cost.


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