Bookended by the horrors of 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and the upcoming LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, the summer of unwanted sequels to bad movies continues with the low-aiming CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE, a dumb follow-up to the dumb flick adapted from the dumb '70s TV show.
OK, director McG and company have tightened things up a bit and put together a more polished piece of nonsense this time around not exactly a challenge of THE GODFATHER, PART II proportions, but let's give credit where credit's due. No doubt inspired by the paycheck she negotiated to return to the franchise, toplining star Cameron Diaz has an even bigger smile on her face, and Bernie Mac ends up being a not completely disappointing substitution for Bill Murray as one-man Angel support network Bosley. Taking what worked from the first installment's slapstick sight gags and tongue-in-cheek action sequences and cranking it all up a notch, McG has in fact made a faster, slightly more fun comedy.
Oh, but that's saying so little.
After a Mongolia-set action prologue that pays annoying homage to the Nepal bar scene from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (with star/producer Drew Barrymore's Dylan Sanders self-flatteringly inserted in the Marion role as if!) and a weirdly emphasized Bruce Willis cameo (look at all the stars who want to be in our movie!), FULL THROTTLE gets down to the business of its throwaway main plot. This concerns the theft of a pair of rings which, joined together, reveal the identities of everyone being guarded by the U.S. government's witness protection program. Well, where did you think they kept that information, in a secure FBI facility or something? Tied into the mystery are an Irish mobster ex-flame of Dylan's (MULHOLLAND DR.'s Justin Theroux) and a former Angel with sharing/teamwork issues (Demi Moore in a not-so-anxiously awaited comeback part). Pumping up the comedy quotient are Mac as a bumbling new Bosley-in-training, a welcome John Cleese as the visiting father of Lucy Liu's Alex Munday, and the one and only Crispin Glover, whose slain Thin Man character inexplicably returns in a bizarre, unresolved subplot that may require another film (grrrr!) to explain it.
Of course, the storyline isn't meant to deliver much of anything on its own the fun is supposed to be watching the adventure-loving heroines concocting elaborate, Rube Goldberg-ish solutions to simple problems (all three joining in a raucous strip club show as a way to steal keys and I.D. from a particular thug, for example) or spewing out whatever streams of absurdly specialized information might lead them to the next clue. Unfortunately, while the ANGELS films have the BRADY BUNCH MOVIE ironic distance thing down, keeping the audience hip to every wink-wink and nudge-nudge, they're missing both the pure comic inventiveness and genuine affection for the characters that draw us into more inspired spoofs such as the BRADY or AUSTIN POWERS series.
As in the first film, however, it's actually the third-billed Liu who ends up stealing the show. Exuding intelligence on top of her exotic beauty and keen comic timing, she's both the most amusing Angel and the easiest to believe as a high-flying superheroine. Not surprisingly, it's Liu and Cleese who share the movie's one truly hilarious bit a THREE'S COMPANY-style misunderstanding scene in which Alex's explanation of her work as an Angel is taken by her stunned father to be a description of a very different, and far older, profession.
As for Barrymore, who helped relaunch the franchise under her Flower Films production banner, the unfortunate truth is that she simply isn't in the same league as her co-leads in terms of comic skill, action-movie physicality or sex-object ogle-ability. Her main appeal is her inherent sweetness and how obviously she's enjoying herself in the film. After watching her try her best in a variety of comedy roles over the years, however, it's safe to say she... well, just isn't all that funny.
On the action front, McG pushes CGI-driven sequences such as the Angels tumbling through the air beside a falling helicopter or hanging onto the outside of a villain's speeding car so far that the heroines seem more like Powerpuff Girls than the original series' more or less reality-based trio (to the extent that Farrah Fawcett represented reality). McG is no Wachowski brother when it comes to creatively staging the MATRIX-y action material, but his slick, in-your-face style certainly hits the videogame tone he's seems to be going for. It's the lifelessness of much of the material between action sequences that's the problem in FULL THROTTLE, and no amount of digital animation can help McG there.