Pants, take two: This one's for the girls. 

If you can't beat The Dark Knight, why not carve a little piece of the pie in the form of some surefire counterprogramming? While The Dark Knight is thrilling teen boys of all ages, this one's for the girls: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, a sequel to the 2005 hit based on a popular series of teen novels by Ann Brashares.

Just as Sex & the City scored big by providing an alternative to a summer of boycentric popcorn cinema, this reunion of four attractive, relatable TV-identified actresses tries to do the same for a younger and (hopefully) more innocent demographic.

Like in Sex & the City, an opening montage reconnects with old story lines and refamiliarizes the audience with the four principals in this ongoing gal-pal saga. Where the first edition (based on the first volume of the four-book series) was most definitely a high school movie, this one (based on the last book installment) is a college movie set over the summer following freshman year.

Tibby (Joan of Arcadia's Amber Tamblyn) is an NYU film student doing makeup work; Bridget (Gossip Girl Blake Lively) is a soccer star at Brown who's heading to Turkey for an archaeology dig; Lena (Gilmore Girl Alexis Bledel) is sketching through the summer at the Rhode Island School of Design; and Carmen (Ugly Betty's America Ferrera) is a drama student at Yale heading to a summer workshop in Vermont.

Things are a little more grown-up this go-around. Romantic entanglements are considerably more complicated, including a pregnancy scare. In the first film, Carmen was dealing with an estranged father; here Bridget reconnects with an estranged grandmother, played by Blythe Danner in a very affecting sequence.

And, yes, those damn pants are still around. The premise of the series is that the group of friends happen upon a pair of jeans that magically fits each of their very different body types and brings good luck. It's a passable gimmick for high-schoolers, but it seems far sillier now that everyone's grown up. Here, the pants-specific plotting seems as reluctantly dutiful as the appearance of these contractually obligated actresses. The premise — that the girls mail the jeans back and forth, thus the "traveling" part — also hurts the film by keeping the actresses apart too much.

Clearly, this fidelity to the source material helps connect the film to its built-in audience, but the dumb title and even cornier premise are probably non-starters for anyone outside the core demo.

Which is too bad, because, while The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is as minor and formulaic as the first film, it also gives a group of engaging young actresses (mostly) realistic and respectful situations to negotiate. There's some fantasy here, for sure, but the fact that the film doesn't get too worked up about its color-blind casting or complicated families is just the start of its modest realism. In a world of Bratz and Britney, this is laudable stuff, and the lives of girls (or anyone else) should be of interest beyond the target audience.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2

Now playing

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