|Clockwise from top: Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively, America Ferrera, and Amber Tamblyn in ''The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.'' (Phil CARUSO/warner bros.)|
The only title more unlikely than "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" is "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2." Wait, you mean those faded jeans are still out there, with all the customized doodads and the magical ability to fit Ugly Betty, the former Joan of Arcadia, and two CW girls (one Gossip, one ex-Gilmore)? Aren't these ladies too old for this? They are, and in this crowded, borderline epic sequel to the 2005 hit, they're thinking about folding the pants for good.
The jeans were an authentic unifying device in the first film, equalizing and harmonizing four very different women. In a bitchy, mean-girls era, these four seemed like sincere friends. The second installment, which like the first is based on Ann Brashares's book series, is watchable despite its tedious weave of stock plots. The movie finds the sisterhood in that awkward summer between college freshman and sophomore years, when high school relationships suffer neglect at the prospect of an expanded socio-extracurricular universe. You'd think a Facebook account might solve some of that angst, but this is a world where people are lackadaisical about sending and reading e-mails. The movie is old-fashioned that way - very 2005.
Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) has a pregnancy scare with her boyfriend (Leonardo Nam) while taking an NYU screenwriting course (will she use her experience to write "Juno 2"?). Bridget (Blake Lively) goes on an archaeological dig, discovers letters her father has hidden from her, and heads from Turkey to Alabama. Lena (Alexis Bledel) is caught between the advances of the nude model (Jesse Williams) in her RISD drawing class and the remorse of her first love, Kostos (Michael Rady), now like a walking episode of "Guiding Light." Poor Carmen (America Ferrera) is woebegone that her pals don't want to spend the summer together and heads to drama camp, where she's embroiled in a Disney Channel version of "All About Eve" opposite the Yale classmate (Rachel Nichols) who invited her.
Directing from Elizabeth Chandler's script, Sanaa Hamri takes over from Ken Kwapis, and she generates familiar human warmth. She's also raised the number of interracial relationships and without the fuss of her previous interracial romance, "Something New." But in oscillating among all these plots, arguments, fantasies, and pratfalls ("I just fell off a donkey!"), the movie drags something awful. The film's climax takes us, with hilarious ease, to a seaside village in Greece, and it's disappointing, to say the least; you come all this way and not one ABBA song.
The adults who show up to guide and inspire are distinguished enough: Kyle MacLachlan swishing it up at drama camp, Blythe Danner regal in Alabama, Shohreh Aghdashloo wise and glamorous in archeological safari wear, Rachel Ticotin underused again as Carmen's mom. The real trouble is that Tamblyn, Lively, Bledel, and Ferrera, while lovely in their respective sections on "Traveling Pants 2," make the greatest sense together: the hugging, the fighting, the sitting around staring out at the sea. What they have goes beyond basic chemistry. They seem spiritually fused and, at this point, exceedingly womanly. In the intervening years, they've become pretty good actors, too. Now where's the filmmaker who'll give them more to do than pregnancy scares and falls off donkeys?