Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

D: McG
S: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu

The title summarises the ethos which has informed the sequel to Charlie's Angels, and there is certainly no denying that it never lets up. From its incredibly noisy opening to its equally bombastic climax, returning director McG takes the hyperkinetic action scenes which peppered the original and attempts to construct an entire movie out of them. The result is a relentless, bombastic, and self-deprecating super spectacle which paves the way for the cartoon series which is apparently to follow. The fact that it becomes painful fairly fast is a slight drawback though, because the sense of spontaneous fun which made the first one work has been replaced by a sense of desperate excess. The film wears you down rather than lifting you up, and though there are a few giggles, it is hard to actually like even if you don't completely hate it.

The plot begins with an action scene crossing Raiders of the Lost Ark with GoldenEye as the 'angels', (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu) take on a Mongolian horde in a smoky bar before leaping off a bridge and into a helicopter. At the end of the scene, a miscellaneous baddie makes a phone call to an enigmatic and as yet unseen über-villain who says it's time for 'Plan B', triggering the credit sequence. The rest of the movie works much the same way, careening from big action set piece to big action set piece pausing momentarily for a smidgen of plot, a couple of in-jokes, and some pun-laden banter between the principals.

Does it really matter how the story unfolds? Well, there's no secret to the fact that it involves Demi Moore as a former angel who has struck out on her own, and the stage is set for a climactic catfight on wires in slo-mo and scored with the techno-punk stylings of The Prodigy. There are a couple of surprise cameos, more action than anyone really needs in one sitting, and a serious overload of movie references. The whole film is designed like an advertisement for itself, consisting almost entirely of hi-impact visual gags and fetish situations which make for a great poster campaign.

There is very little to say about the film that wasn't said in criticism of the original or of the television series itself. The lines between appropriation and exploitation are crossed once again, and with much the same joyous abandon as last time. In the opening scenes, Diaz mounts a mechanical bull dressed in a skimpy white and outfit pretending to be a ditzy tourist. The point of her routine is to distract the sweaty Mongolians from the heroic activities of her fellow agents, but the result is a scene in which a pretty blonde bumps, grinds, and squeals before a room full of heaving, hairy men howling in appreciation. It is really very much up to the individual how to respond to all of this, but the film is certainly aware of where the boundaries are drawn, and is more than happy to leap, strut, and dance across them as its stars rake in the royalties (Barrymore's production company, Flower Films, is again a prime mover behind the scenes).

Alas something has definitely been lost between the first big screen outing and this sequel. There was a relaxed and likable air to the proceedings last time out which is absent here. In spite of attempts to reprise many of the scenes which worked in the first, the second seems to be reaching for something which seemed to come naturally before. Though it acknowledges its own contrivances (including an entire subplot revolving around an hi-octane action movie featuring supporting character Matt Le Blanc which has an ad campaign styled after Mission: Impossible 2), the tongue-in-cheek approach seems forced.

The endless movie jokes get tired too quickly, and some of them are simply overdone (most of the kids for whom the movie will represent the pinnacle of cinematic entertainment will not remember Cape Fear, let alone Rebel Without a Cause, both of which are referenced). The eponymous stars try hard, but actually frequently appear more haggard than they are probably meant to from the effort of enjoying themselves so much. In fact, in the final analysis, the movie really isn't very enjoyable at all despite everyone's apparently earnest efforts to make it so. Though there are enough gags in there for everyone to find at least one they like (John Cleese isn't bad in a small supporting role), it can be rather too much effort to endure the barrage of sound and fury which makes up the rest of it. It is just too hard to have fun with this movie, and it really shouldn't be.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2003.