Have any actresses been indulged with as much sincere and relentless affection as the stars of the Charlie’s Angels movies? Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore (also one of the producers), and Lucy Liu show no signs of been-there-done-that in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, the sequel to the 2000 hit; once again, the tone is that of a giggly, sweetly knowing, megabucks slumber party, and when I caught it on opening night the audience of mostly teenage girls was alive to the Pez-colored daffiness. Like a hard guitar riff wedded to a poppy dance beat, these movies exist somewhere between Joan Jett’s and Britney Spears’ renditions of “I Love Rock and Roll” — albeit closer to Joan, thank goodness.
Wild child Dylan (Barrymore), dorky Natalie (Diaz), and cool Alex (Liu) continue their empowering, gently feminist adventures: they eschew guns, they dance and eat with equal avidity, and, when provoked, they kick nine kinds of ass. (Significantly, their opening number this time out — a rescue mission at a Mongolian tavern that winks at Raiders of the Lost Ark — depends more on guile and retreat than on defensive violence.) The boys — including the returning Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc, both as nonplussed as ever (LeBlanc is never funnier than when Lucy Liu has literally thrown him for a loop) — mainly take the role of Boyfriend, much as women in male-oriented action flicks fill the job of Girlfriend. It should be noted, though, that the men — except for Justin Theroux as a brutal heavy with an impenetrable Irish accent — are handled with far more care and respect in the Charlieverse than women can expect in many a testosterone bash. In these films, nice guys finish first. Even Crispin Glover, popping in again as the Thin Man with the hair fetish, is given room to have a change of heart.
The plot is some nonsense involving a pair of rings encoded with the identities of people in the Witness Protection Program (one of whom is Dylan, hiding from her misspent youth). Strangely, for a movie that finds time to tip its hat to Marion Ravenwood, Cape Fear, Flashdance, MC Hammer, Terminator 2, Blue Crush, The Fast and the Furious, and Christ knows how many other pop-culture landmarks, Full Throttle never branches out into Lord of the Rings tribute (perhaps because these comediennes’ sisters across the pond, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, have already presented probably the wittiest LOTR skewering ever). So our Angels either have to protect the rings or retrieve them — I’ve already forgotten. Aiding them is the movie’s new Bosley — Bernie Mac, in for Bill Murray, and funnier and looser than Murray, who made do with what he was given in the original but seemed a bit constrained (he already had the modern classic Rushmore under his belt by then, and may have felt he was regressing).
It turns out that Bernie Mac’s Bosley is actually the brother of Murray’s Bosley, who grew up with an African-American family (add Steve Martin’s The Jerk to the list). Director McG and his writers see no reason why that shouldn’t be feasible, nor why Lucy Liu’s starchy dad shouldn’t be played by John Cleese. Full Throttle is turbo-charged bubblegum fun, but it’s more affable than knee-slapping, and I only got two hearty laughs out of the evening — once when a black kid sasses Bernie Mac (“Do not mess with the black man’s do!”), and again when John Cleese, wildly misinterpreting the nature of his daughter’s mysterious work, looks crestfallen nearly to death, and then, hilariously and rather touchingly, forces himself to accept the idea of Alex as a ravenous call girl. “Whatever makes you happy,” he sighs.
That could’ve been McG’s motto as a director on both of these adventures. Cameron Diaz loves to wiggle her butt to cheesy music? McG slams on the movie’s brakes so she can do so. Drew Barrymore wants flashbacks to Dylan’s bratty days as a face-painted wrestler and a hooting monster-truck driver? Not a problem — Uncle McG gets the girls what they want. He has proven himself a master of the highly specialized field of explosive girl-power blockbusters; time will tell whether he has other shots in his cannon (though I don’t see any Harold Pinter adaptations in his future), but I doubt that any other director could have delivered the Charlie’s Angels films with as much verve, enthusiasm, and obvious love as he has. Or as much imaginative wham-bang showmanship: some of the over-the-top action here stands shoulder to shoulder with the set-pieces in The Matrix Reloaded, without the tedious white-room exposition.
The movie is even kind to Demi Moore, making a comeback as a cold-bitch former Angel with preternaturally white teeth. Now 40, Moore looks sensational in the bikini she wears in her first scene, and the camera genuflects to her even as the script demonizes her (the character commits the worst sin imaginable in the Charlieverse — she turns her back on the sisterhood). Moore has been absent from the screen for a few years, disregarding Hollywood and raising her three daughters, and the hiatus seems to have done wonders for her — she no longer has the humorless drive to succeed, to be taken seriously, that has marred her past work. She’s here for the ride, and everyone working on the movie is thrilled to have her along, and you can feel her relaxing into the proceedings. A scrapper by nature, Moore lets go here and moves with the flow, resulting in her most likable performance yet, despite the razory vixen she’s playing. This formerly clenched and forbidding actress may yet have a future in light comedy.