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NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Sex and the City" may have lost the scandalous story lines and antics that once left fans both shocked and delighted, but box office experts and devotees predict that won't stop fans flocking to the movie sequel.
Women around the world are prepping their wardrobes for cocktail nights out and planning brunches and beauty treatments timed to watch Carrie Bradshaw and her three gal pals return in "Sex and the City 2," that begins its worldwide roll-out on Thursday and opens in more than 30 countries by next week.
Similar to the first movie, many U.S. reviews have been less than flattering. USA Today called it a "mortifying mess", New York magazine "an epic eyesore," and the Los Angeles Times said "the satire is sagging, the irony's atrophied and the funny is flabby."
A few reviews were more positive. The Hollywood Reporter, for one, said the sequel has "more cutting edge humor" than the first film and for "the core audience, there will be no complaints about too much of a good thing. This picture is going to be a smash."
The first movie about four New York City women dealing with life and love raked in more than $415 million worldwide, and box office watchers expect solid ticket sales.
"Even if the movie is terrible, women don't care," said Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. It's an event...and I think for a lot of women, this is their 'Star Wars.' These are the characters that they love."
Weeks before the debut, advance tickets were snapped up with more than 50 percent of early online ticket sales going in blocks of four or more, said Dergarabedian, "which means women are going in groups, they're making a girls night out of it, and that's music to the studio's ears, no question about it."
Many women long ago planned shopping trips and other outings around the film, and to them reviews don't matter.
"The show is not supposed to cure cancer. It fulfills that fantasy of what New York City is to the people who don't live (here) and what it can be for those of us who do," said 39-year-old New York resident Monica Lozano.
In fact, screenings taking place just after midnight on Thursday, raked in $3 million, according to studio estimates.
The sequel, distributed by Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros, sees a return to celebrating the friendship of the four main characters -- Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha -- who reflect on marriage and motherhood, leaving behind their families for an unlikely extravagant holiday in Abu Dhabi.
Supporting characters from the TV series, such as Carrie's former boyfriend Aidan, appear in the sequel, and stars from Liza Minnelli to Miley Cyrus make cameo appearances.
And, of course, on display are many glamorous outfits that are sure to tantalize women everywhere who love fashion.
Much of the "Sex and the City" success is owed to the idea that it made women believe there was no reason to be embarrassed about feeling good about your body and flaunting it, said Elle Magazine's fashion director Anne Slowey.
The show had a "phenomenal influence on the fashion industry," she said. "And it's a lot of fun. That's the bottom line. Fashion is fun. 'Sex and the City' is fun. It's the perfect marriage."
Cast members and trend experts said the influence of the franchise on pop culture has been nothing short of incredible since the groundbreaking TV series first aired in 1998.
"It's beyond anything that I could have hoped, dreamed for, pondered," Sarah Jessica Parker (Carrie) told Reuters.
additional reporting by Gemma Haines and Karina Ioffee, editing by Bob Tourtellotte