Jennifer Saunders, left, and Joanna Lumley Absolutely Fabulous: The Film (David Appleby/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Jennifer Saunders, left, and Joanna Lumley in Absolutely Fabulous: The Film (David Appleby/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

Has time been kind to waning publicity powerhouse Edina Monsoon and age-defying fashion editor Patsy Stone, after more than 20 years of imbibing every variety of chemical substance under the sun and fervently following every fashion trend? Have they remained up-to-date and ahead of the curve since appearing on the buzziest show on the then-nascent Comedy Central cable channel during the 1990s?

Sure, in the big-screen spinoff of Absolutely Fabulous, the pair tweet, inject Botox before a champagne (naturally) breakfast, rub elbows with Stella McCartney, and pepper their lingo with pop references circa 2016. But the TV show’s entire ensemble has been brought to the big screen as though captured in amber, frozen in time as specimens of an era when the Britcom was edgy enough to have a preceding content warning. To stand out from the narcissism of the show’s current TV brethren, from You’re the Worst to Difficult People, Edina and Patsy have to be particularly unruly to stand out. Though they would vehemently disagree, they are, sadly, old school. (Difficult People’s striving New Yorkers, played by Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner, might be the unloved bastard children of either Edina or Patsy, if cynicism were a genetic trait.)

The feature film centers on a plot so flimsy that it’s practically sheer: Patsy (Joanna Lumley, who as always, gives withering side-eye) aids and abets Edina (Jennifer Saunders), who is on the lam after she pushes Kate Moss off a balcony into the Thames during London Fashion Week. In one big departure from the comedy’s roots, the producers trade in the low-budget, three-camera format for a more elegant look as the duo flees to the South of France, where according to Edina, “everyone is a criminal.” Indeed, the famed Cote d’Azur lends the film a sheen money can’t buy.

Screenwriter and star Jennifer Saunders keeps her satirical sights narrowed down to the self-loathing of the dyspeptic duo, both of whom are diligently on the prowl for their next elixir of youth fix. The movie’s tone mirrors episodes from two decades ago, due in no small part to the characters looking and acting largely the same. Edina’s ethereal assistant Bubble, played by Jane Horrocks, still dresses like a ’90s club kid hoping to be photographed in The Face. (Her name  perfectly matches her character description). Edina’s daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha), now in her late 30s, continuously rebels against her mother by living the straight and narrow lifestyle in frilly and frumpy fashion. And in another throwback, the cast is loaded with boldfaced names from the Daily Mail: Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice; Jerry Hall; Lulu; and Joan Collins, almost all from the pre-social media age.

Granted, the emphasis of the acerbic sitcom had never been about growth or change, and none of its fashion victims have ever demonstrated signs of growing up in any way like, say, Carrie Bradshaw and company in Sex and the City, another touchstone from the ’90s. That would need self-awareness, which the attention-hungry pair blithely lack almost as a badge of honor. Even when they are sober, the focus of their barbs remains myopic, barely widening to the world outside Notting Hill and the insular London media set.

So what the big-screen version has to fall back on is its wit and bad behavior. But banter that once sounded insider-y and vicariously decadent is ubiquitous. Nowadays, anyone can become haute couture-literate without attending a fashion show or reading Vogue. Though the original series helped to lead the way toward a cynical, narcissistic, and bawdy brand of comedy, it can’t match younger, more scathing upstarts, which can be discovered on almost any night of television, cable or otherwise, and that have a wider worldview, such as Jenji Kohan’s Weeds or Nahnatchka Khan’s short-lived, no-holds-barred Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. And those series left the airwaves years ago.

For the TV show’s faithful fans, the movie will be a Friday night event for large gatherings. It’s like an all-night bender that’s occasionally diverting, but one that will be forgotten the morning after.

Directed by Mandie Fletcher
Produced by Damian Jones and Jon Plowman
Written by Jennifer Saunders
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures
UK/USA. 86 min. Rated R
With Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Chris Colfer, Kate Moss, Lulu, Emma Bunton, Robert Webb, and Barry Humphries