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By Ann Hornaday
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 27, 2003

You know you're in for a painful sit when the opening credits of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" begin with "A film by McG."

"A film by Orson Welles," okay. "A film by Alfred Hitchcock," by all means. But McG (né Joseph McGinty Nichol), who's made precisely one movie and whose biggest claim to fame before that was directing a Korn video? Well, let's just say his arms are way too short to box with the cinematic gods.

Nichol's first movie, of course, was "Charlie's Angels," an admittedly fun, if birdbrained, action comedy starring Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz. That first movie took the premise of the hit 1970s TV show -- three lissome lasses who solve crimes and kick major tushie in the process -- and ramped it up in velocity, throw-weight and sexual heat. Although the first "Charlie's Angels" movie was ostensibly about the subversive, grrrl-power pleasures of watching three hotties get just as down and dirty as their male action-hero peers, it was really about watching Diaz shake her groove thing in progressively skimpier outfits. Nichol, in his infinite wisdom, has taken that fundamental truth and stretched it into a nearly two-hour exercise in chaotic action and coarse, annoyingly coy sexuality.

Make no mistake: "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" is Cameron Diaz's movie. In any other instance, this would be a good thing -- many observers note that as a blond bombshell with a knack for self-deprecation, she's this era's answer to Carole Lombard. But the meat-headed, ham-handed Nichol manages to make even Diaz almost unwatchable by the end of the movie. By then we've seen so many pratfalls, impromptu dance-striptease numbers and fetishized shots of fanny-spanks and catfights that all sense of play, of flirtation and seduction, has been forcibly wrung out of them.

To synopsize "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" would be to stipulate a plot, of which there is nary. Put most simply, super-spies Dylan (Barrymore), Alex (Liu) and Natalie (Diaz) have been assigned by their unseen boss, Charlie (the voice of John Forsythe), to locate two titanium rings that hold the identities of people in the federal witness protection program. This will place Dylan in the path of an ex-lover: a gangster with an Ed Grimley haircut named Seamus O'Grady (Justin Theroux). It will introduce the girls to a legendary former Angel named Madison Lee (Demi Moore). And more important, it will call for scads of costume changes in which Diaz plays, respectively, a Scandinavian tourist riding a mechanical yak, a butch crime scene investigator, a bikini-clad surfer chick, a leather-clad biker chick, a nun, a welder, a burlesque dancer and a bellhop.

Had Nichol simply allowed Diaz and her co-stars to camp it up as cheerfully -- and beguilingly -- as they did in the first movie, "Full Throttle" might have been an unobjectionable lightweight summer romp. Instead, he's crammed the movie to bursting with fireballs, chase scenes and slow-motion visual effects that were hackneyed by the time "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" stopped crouching and went into hiding. Presumably in an effort to bone up for his next directorial effort -- Mattel's "Hot Wheels" movie, I kid you not -- Nichol takes a particularly long and incoherent time with the chase scenes. The opening sequence of a narrow escape in northern Mongolia is a scattershot mess of trucks and tanks and planes (where did they come from?); later, the Angels do time at an interminable motocross meet. These sequences, plus showdowns at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the San Pedro shipyard, culminate in a final Grand Guignol of trashy visuals, slashing sound effects and a crypto-Sapphic encounter between Diaz and Moore that will no doubt immediately enter heavy rotation in adolescent male fantasies everywhere.

Indeed, kinky sexuality beats a near-constant tattoo throughout "Full Throttle," from crude puns and the predilections of the mysterious Thin Man (Crispin Glover) to the bump-and-grind antics of Diaz and Co. and the dominatrix chic of Moore (who, it must be said, proves that even after three kids and a 40th birthday she can still afford the best personal trainer on the planet). No doubt "Charlie's Angels" co-producer Barrymore and her co-stars will insist that, in winking at male fantasies and giving them such exaggerated life, they're not trafficking in T&A as much as making fun of it. Maybe, maybe not -- their teenage audience surely won't care.

In fact, with "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" that great auteur McG raises what may prove to be the defining question of his career: When does an attempt at parody merely become an excuse to pander?

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (111 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for action violence, sensuality and language/innuendo.


© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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