For a series so steeped in romance, the eagerly awaited “Sex and the City” movie feels a trifle half-hearted.

For a series so steeped in romance, the eagerly awaited “Sex and the City” movie feels a trifle half-hearted. Although there’s pleasure in seeing HBO’s fabulous four reunited, writer-director Michael Patrick King doesn’t fully bridge the gap between TV and film — delivering major story flourishes but, too often, playing like a regular episode bloated to five times its customary length. Best in its small moments, the movie should find receptive gal pals congregating for the mother of all viewing parties, but appeal beyond that core should present New Line with less of a storybook finish than it doubtless would like.

The show’s creative guiding light in its later seasons, King dispenses with a quick guide to “Sex” via a clever opening-credit sequence. In short order, he catches the audience up on the characters, who were allowed to hopefully ride into the sunset in the series finale.

If only the movie exhibited the same dedication to pacing beyond that point. Without giving away too much regarding the story, one theme explores the boundaries of forgiveness — a touch ironic for a romantic comedy that commits the near-irredeemable sin of stretching to nearly 2 ½ hours.

A little time has passed, and it’s in keeping with the show’s melancholy tone that fairy-tale endings don’t necessarily mean happily ever after. So the group’s narrator, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), is still involved with the on-off-and-finally-on-again mogul Mr. Big (Chris Noth); the prickly Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) is adjusting to marriage and over-scheduled motherhood; Charlotte (Kristin Davis) remains a wide-eyed dreamer; and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) chafes at monogamy, despite her Hollywood bedmate being the younger, classically gorgeous TV star Smith (Jason Lewis).

Each of the women, inevitably, faces their own obstacles, providing them with individual highlights around Parker’s Carrie, whose situation drives the story. Those arcs, however, ultimately prove less satisfying than the simplest scenes, such as the four getting loopy on champagne together or Davis’ Charlotte emotionally standing up for one of her friends.

As for new blood, Jennifer Hudson drops in as Carrie’s new assistant, graced with a 20-something’s faith in love. The “Dreamgirls” star makes more of the sketchy part than she has any right to (and, naturally, belts out one of the songs), while not incidentally representing a demographic break from the show’s largely monochromatic palette.

Not surprisingly, virtually every pricey label imaginable finds its way into “Sex’s” fashion-obsessed accessorizing. Thanks to Samantha, moreover, women also get to enjoy that rarest of cinematic moments — sequences that completely objectify men, for a change. (In this case, the heretofore unknown stock to buy would be Gilles Marini, cast in the near-non-verbal role of dreamboat neighbor Dante, a name chosen with sly purpose.) Adapting any TV series to film is a daunting task — including, apparently, even one previously blessed with HBO’s artistic latitude. The delicate transfer process requires capturing the program’s essence while justifying the change of venue.

“Just like old times,” Samantha sighs during one joint outing, and it must have felt that way, particularly with King reassembling much of the show’s creative team as well as its cast.

Kind of like old times, actually, but not quite — evidence that even a glossed-up version of Manhattan is a hard place to go home again.

Sex and the City

Production

A New Line Cinema release presented in association with Home Box Office of a Darren Star production. Produced by Michael Patrick King, Sarah Jessica Parker, Darren Star, John Melfi. Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Richard Brener, Kathryn Busby, Jonathan Filley. Co-Producer, Eric Cyphers. Written and directed by King; based on characters from the book by Candace Bushnell and the TV series created by Darren Star.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor color), John Thomas; editor, Michael Berenbaum; music, Aaron Zigman; executive music producer, Salaam Remi; production designer, Jeremy Conway; art director, Ed Check; set decorator, Lydia Marks; costume designer, Patricia Field; co-designers, Molly Rogers, Danny Santiago; sound (SDDS-Dolby Digital-Stereo DTS),William Sarokin; supervising sound editor, Michael Hilkene; sound designer, Odin Benitez; associate producers, Melinda Relyea, Tiffany Hayzlett Parker; assistant director, Bettiann Fishman; casting, Bernard Telsey. Reviewed at the New Line screening room, Los Angeles, May 14, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 145 MIN.

With

Carrie Bradshaw - Sarah Jessica Parker Samantha Jones - Kim Cattrall Charlotte York - Kristin Davis Miranda Hobbes - Cynthia Nixon Mr. Big - Chris Noth Enid Frick - Candice Bergen Louise - Jennifer Hudson Steve Brady - David Eigenberg Harry Goldenblatt - Evan Handler Smith Jerrod - Jason Lewis Anthony Marentino - Mario Cantone Magda - Lynn Cohen Stanford Blatch - Willie Garson

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