On Screen

The Angels' Forced Fun

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 27, 2003

SO, Charlie's Angels -- that would be Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) -- are driving a military truck that's hauling a helicopter.

Someone fires a missile at them from behind. Then a tank in front of them fires. Two missiles coming at them, one fore and one aft. So they swerve the rig off a bridge. As they fall toward the water below, the helicopter comes loose and all three Angels disentangle themselves, climb into the helicopter and start that sucker up before they hit the surface.

Thank goodness for slow motion. Not to mention gymnastic, buffed bodies falling through the air.

If this rocks your world, then "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" is for you. But don't expect the giddy charm of the first film. The 2000 "Charlie's Angels" had an invigorating, liberating credo: girl action figures should have the same fun as boys. But in "Full Throttle," that sense of fun is jackhammered into our skulls. The tongue that was so firmly in cheek last time has punctured through muscle and bone.

The Angels are adorable, okay, and they're not just having fun -- they're having an over-the-top good time as they smile incessantly, toss their heads back in laughter, exchange high-fives and participate in a sort of extreme-sports version of a movie. There are costume changes and new high-kicks for every scene. The music is, of course, relentlessly loud, and the use of "Matrix"-style bullet-trajectory slow motion seems to have become required viewing in every action film.

The plot? Apparently the FBI has been watching a few too many "Lord of the Rings" sequels. It seems that the entire software database of whistleblowers, informers and former victims, whose identities have been changed under the Witness Protection Program, can be found within two rings. When both go missing, it's up to the Angels team to retrieve them.

Their loopy mission brings them into contact with surfers, motorcycle riders and recurrent sinister figure the Thin Man (Crispin Glover), who with his slick suit and center-hair parting suggests a demented banker from the 1940s.

We also spend time with repeat suitors Pete (Luke Wilson) and Jason (Matt LeBlanc), who are suitably sweet and backgroundish. Bosley (Bill Murray), from the first film, has gone to other, better things. He's replaced by a suddenly revealed brother, amusingly played by Bernie Mac, who could turn any throwaway character into someone memorable.

The fine-tuned balance of zaniness and action has become a shriller question of franchise interests. Is co-producer and co-star Barrymore getting an equitable share of screen time with Diaz (who is obviously the crowd favorite of the three)? Can the physically retrofitted Demi Moore, who plays a fallen Angel with treacherous ways, bring in the older oglers? Should director Joseph McGinty Nichol, or McG as he's called, ratchet up the action tenfold or twentyfold? How many music videos can a man string end-to-end and call it a movie?

And can Diaz's character get any crazier? In this movie, her blundering, I'll-try-anything shtick is practically nuclear-driven. She could inspire a new psychotic condition called GOS: giddy overdrive syndrome.

The central theme is that, despite everything, the Angels have each other. But it's hard to believe these one-dimensional beings have the human machinery to care about one another. They seem too busy competing for the biggest smile or the best line.

"Full Throttle" is hardly the kind of movie to merit the slightest modicum of critical scrutiny. But if the Angels had a clue as to who they really were, we might find them more compelling, which would make the action cooler. But McG is too busy creating a pornography of self-reverential mayhem to care much about such matters. His eyes and hands are firmly on the throttle, not the storyline.

Obviously, you can have fun with this kind of experience. It's just that you'll be enjoying the military-industrial-complex version.

CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE (PG-13, 106 minutes) -- Contains action violence, sensuality, sexual innuendo and obscenity. Area theaters.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company