Yes, the pants still exist, but now they're covered in patches and jewels and etched with the memories and dreams of the four young women who've been wearing them. And they still travel _ to New York and Vermont, Turkey and Greece, and various points in between.

But the magic in those jeans, and in the bond that linked the friends who've shared them over the years, seems to have faded in "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2."

The sequel to 2005's surprisingly tolerable "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" finds our eclectic group of heroines a little bit older and wiser and a lot less connected, despite the promise they made to ship the jeans to each other along with a note containing the juicy details of their latest adventures. Now, they barely have time to dash off an e-mail saying hi.

Makes sense that they'd go off to college and begin forming separate lives, but the film from director Sanaa Hamri ("Something New"), taking over for Ken Kwapis, feels disjointed, too. It bounces from one girl's story line to another's without much tonal cohesion, and it doesn't help that the situations the characters find themselves in are often soapy and contrived. (The script from Elizabeth Chandler is based on the second, third and fourth books of Ann Brashares' series of novels.)

And because they spend so little time talking, laughing and bonding, it depletes the sequel of much of the original's spark. Part of the allure of the first film came from watching these women support each other no matter what, in a way that was real and believable without feeling too treacly. Imagine how "Sex and the City" would play if its four stars never got together to dish.

One consistency remains, though: America Ferrera pretty much steals the whole movie out from under her co-stars as the quick-witted Carmen, who's now studying drama at Yale. Ferrera is an actress with a likable, accessible presence who always makes her performances look effortless _ that's something we knew even before she became the Emmy-winning star of TV's "Ugly Betty," but her charms only seem to strengthen as she grows older and more seasoned.

Carmen, who also serves as our narrator again, had hoped to spend the summer after her freshman year back home in Bethesda, Md., with her three best girlfriends. Instead, she ends up working backstage at a Vermont theater company when it becomes obvious that everyone else has made other plans _ and she finds herself making an unexpected star turn, much to the annoyance of the WASPy drama queen (Rachel Nichols) who'd invited her there.

Tragic Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is at NYU film school and, somewhere along the way, transformed herself into a goth version of Liza Minnelli. She doles out snarky, unsolicited advice to customers at the video store where she works (and gets a few amusing lines in there) but her relationship with nice-guy Brian (Leonardo Nam, returning from the first film) has turned suddenly serious. (Her plot line is the one that veers the most drastically all over the place.)

Gorgeous tomboy Bridget (Blake Lively, who has some fresh clout of her own as the star of "Gossip Girl") is playing soccer at Brown and still struggling to heal from her mother's suicide. As she continues to run from herself in painfully symbolic fashion, she jets off to Turkey to volunteer at an archaeological dig. There, she receives some insightful advice from a professor (Shohreh Aghdashloo) which inspires her to seek out the grandmother (Blythe Danner) she barely knows in hopes of learning about her own past.

And quiet Lena (Alexis Bledel) is an art student at the Rhode Island School of Design. (Wait a second. All four of them got into selective, top-notch schools? No one ended up at community college or waiting tables? This really is a fantasy.) Lena's still heartbroken over the way things ended with her first love, Kostos (Michael Rady), on the Greek island of Santorini. Or at least she's supposed to be heartbroken _ Bledel is so ethereally placid, it's hard to tell. But she does get a second chance at romance with the sexy model from her drawing class (newcomer Jesse Williams).

Stuff happens, feelings are hurt, boys dramatically enter and leave their lives and major problems wrap up a bit too neatly, especially at the picturesque ending. That "Traveling Pants 2" offers material that's tailored to an underserved audience _ girls and women who like films that allow them to think and feel _ is, of course, a solid start. You just wish it were a more comfortable fit.

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 for mature material and sensuality. Running time: 111 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.