Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

on June 27, 2003 by Ray Greene
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You know you're in trouble when the best thing you can say about a movie is "well, at least Tom Green isn't in it."

The new "Charlie's Angels" sequel (subtitled "Full Throttle," which is what someone should do to the producers of the film using their bare hands) is a loud, expensive mess of a movie with no real plot but a definite formula. To whit: Dress the stars in some pointlessly elaborate (and usually very unconvincing) disguise. Send them into an over-directed predicament featuring a few oafish males in which they must either kick, punch, bump or grind their way to safety. Blow something up. Spin, cycle and repeat, preferably to the most generic and familiar rock, pop or funk track imaginable. If the major dramatic action of any given scene includes Drew Barrymore sliding seductively down the body of a bit player in order to snag away a set of keys, so much the better.

While that may sound an awful lot like the original "Charlie's Angels" film and a bit like the TV series, it is and it isn't. The TV show was subject to the inherent limitations of '70s broadcast production values, which meant that while there might be a car or a boat chase in any given episode, there was actually a lot of dialogue (and therefore some interaction between the characters), and that when the Angels went undercover, their assumed identities were generally elaborated over an entire program. By contrast, the original "Charlie's Angels" feature, while noisy and repetitively structured, actually bothered to have something resembling a story, and it provided Sam Rockwell and Crispin Glover with reasonably effective turns as villains, though both have done far better work in other contexts.

Here, there isn't so much a story as a pair of very thin ideas around which all the mayhem and wink-wink sexuality is organized. Idea one is that there is a pair of stolen rings which, when placed in an interlocking configuration, will reveal the whereabouts of every single person in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Crooks want those rings so they can rub out informants, so the Angels must get them first. Idea two is that Angel Dylan Sanders (Drew Barrymore) is actually Helen Zass, former protected witness, who ratted out Irish boyfriend Seamus O'Grady (Justin Theroux) after he murdered a man in front of her. O'Grady is out of prison, and now Dylan/Helen and fellow Angels Alex (Lucy Liu) and Natalie (Cameron Diaz) are all in deep danger.

You could say these plots are linked although they really aren't. O'Grady wants to kill all three Angels out of pique, and regards the rings as useful bait, but he certainly wouldn't seem to need to use them to locate anyone, since his business partner in the whole ring caper is ex-Angel gone bad Demi Moore, and she always seems to know exactly where our heroines are. But it's a mug's game to think too hard about storypoints here, since there's a kind of smug disregard for pretty much anything to do with making a real movie at work, coupled with an unfounded belief that simply showing three attractive stars pretending to be having the time of their lives is all that's being asked of anybody.In that respect, "Full Throttle" resembles nothing so much as one of the lesser movie efforts by Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals (think "Robin and the 7 Hoods" as opposed to "Ocean's 11"). As in the worst of the Rat Pack epics, the actresses play everything not like it's supposed to be funny but like it's a put-on, which isn't the same thing. The audience is presumably supposed to feel so privileged to have been invited to such an expensive and exclusive party that it would be churlish for it to ask for anything more than the simple presence of the three guests of honor.

A lot of the credit for the general joylessness of all the rather desperate shtick has to go to director McG, who seems to have absolutely no idea how to shape a joke, or even what constitutes one. Bernie Mac is on hand as the replacement for Bill Murray's Bosley from film one, and he gives the kind of desperately unfunny spluttering black man performance that made most of Richard Pryor's movie career such an appalling spectacle. Anyone with a television knows Bernie Mac is a very funny man, as is John Cleese, here cast as Alex's father. In McG's hands and those of the film's three screenwriters, neither of these very gifted comedians can get a bit of traction. Charlie's girls fair even more poorly, reduced at one point to making an interminable series of puns based on "Helen Zass" in a scene that would seem unsophisticated if it occurred on a pre-school playground peopled by toddlers.

About the only player who comes across at all is Demi Moore, back from the dead after her long post-"Striptease" exile, and doing her damnedest to make an actual character out of the thin clay handed to her by McG et al. She's a welcome relief from the general din, and looks at least as splendid in a bikini as any of the three principals.

Demi isn't the only actress portraying an ex-Angel in the movie. There's also an unfunny but meant to be hilarious cameo from Jaclyn Smith, reprising her Kelly Garrett character from the TV show, which, in tandem with the Moore character, creates an odd feeling that Charlie (still voiced by octogenarian John Forsythe) retires his angels as soon as they hit 40. No one in the movie seems bothered by any of this, but then everyone involved works in the film industry, where that kind of ageism coupled with sexism is standard operating procedure. No wonder Demi is so murderously angry. Here's hoping she takes that anger out on her co-stars and directors before they subject us to this sort of stuff again, and that "Charlie's Angels 2" will be the last of an undistinguished line.

Starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. Directed by McG. Written by John August, Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley. Produced by Drew Barrymore & Leonard Goldberg and Nancy Juvonen A Columbia release. Action/Comedy. Rated PG-13 for action violence, sensuality and language/innuendo. Running time: 103 min

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