U Can't Touch This

Charlie's Angels fly off the summer-movie radar in 'Full Throttle'

The first Charlie's Angels movie sucked in about 47 different ways, but its worst offense was the way it beat up its heroines. No male action hero was ever knocked around the way these girls were. It was as if the filmmakers, including male director McG (yes, his name is McG, if that's okay with McU), didn't think ass-kicking females were plausible--or palatable. Worse, it seemed McGman was stoking the audience's desire to watch chicks get hurt. Not only was this a bummer, but it fucked with the movie's internal logic. Were these girls superheroes or what? Was this movie about girl power or not? And if not, what was the point?

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle has this all sussed out. Matter of fact, I dug it. I left the theater wanting to kick big ol' mobster ass, and in the bookstore afterward I became convinced that two shady-looking men had singled me out for a hit. (I proceeded to walk straight toward them--just to be cocky.) This is how it should feel after a girl-power action movie.

Good clean fun: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu in 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'
Courtesy Columbia Pictures
Good clean fun: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu in 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'

Granted, Full Throttle has major flaws--different facets of the same flaw, really. In three words: too much action. It's as if McG were as afraid of the spoken word as he is of vowels, worried that any lapse into genuine emotion might bore the male audience--or the MTV audience, I'm not sure which. (He's primarily a music video and commercial director.) In a movie about three best girlfriends, this is a problem. Last time I checked, the thing that best girlfriends do most is talk. (And I know from experience that undercover crime-fighting best-girlfriends are no exception.)

What we get instead is so much action--explosions, music, dancing, fights, costume changes, and extreme-sports monkeyshines--that it's difficult to know what we even feel about the characters. We sense intuitively that the movie--co-producer Drew Barrymore's baby--wants to be about joy and love. But such elements take time to develop--time this blockbuster, for whatever reason, can't spare.

The result is that, unlike other girl-power manifestos such as Clueless, Spice World, and Bend It Like Beckham, et al., Full Throttle has a weirdly male-manufactured aftertaste. McG is so damned determined to show that girls can do "boy stuff"--surfing, monster truck driving, and on and on--that the movie totally neglects the "girl stuff." (And I don't mean stripping: We get plenty of that.) I'm left wanting to know who these girls are. Why does one of the Angels give Dylan (Barrymore) an e.e. cummings book? Is Dylan really a virgin? Do the Angels have families or at least imaginary friends? Don't they have nicknames for each other? Haven't they ever dated the same guy? Don't they ever fight?

Having said all that: I still like the darn thing. Of course, your reviewer is a member of one of the film's target audiences: a female old enough to understand why Drew Barrymore riding motocross in a Suzi Quatro mullet is hilarious, but young enough to take mental notes for her next haircut. (You do remember Leather Tuscadero, right? This movie is going to put the whole modified-mullet--or "mod-mull"--fad right over the top.)

Speaking of Drew: Charlie's Angels are a marketing ploy like KISS or the Spice Girls. You're meant to identify with one in particular. A Ginger Spice myself, I'm bound to identify with Barrymore...er, I mean Dylan, the suddenly glam-rock ex-metälhead with a weakness for bad guys and the non-anorexic body. Clearly Barrymore's relationship with one of the Strokes (the only Stroke, really--his name is Fab, okay?) has had a positive influence on her aesthetic--much more so than dopey Tom Green did. In the introductory montage, Dylan is seen pro-wrestling in a Bowie-inspired getup (her T reads "Lady Insane"). Later she smooches Crispin Glover (who parodies himself heroically)--fulfilling a longtime fantasy for weird girls of a certain age.

Diaz and Liu are all right, in their way, although Diaz hasn't changed her basic shtick since There's Something About Mary, and Liu isn't much of an actress--or even a line reader. (And her subplot is lame.) Granted, Barrymore is a rotten line reader herself. Come to think of it, Demi Moore, who plays the prodigal angel Madison, is terrible, too. (I mean wretched.) But these are details. Moore's casting as an old-school hard-ass is perfect: With her workout-abused body and cheesy red sports car, Madison (or Moore, if you prefer) represents the worst qualities of the '80s, while the younger Angels are free merely to cop some of the decade's better fashions.

On that front, the sequel's aesthetics are more fantastic--yet more cohesive--than the first's: Full Throttle is a pomo smorgasbord of nostalgic pop culture for Barrymore's generation, including MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" video, music from Donna Summer to Bon Jovi, Flashdance, roller derby, even a little Henry Rollins influence. (I'm still waiting for that Xanadu tribute!)

Similarly, the terms of (un)reality in Full Throttle are clearer, yet more magical, than in the first movie: These chicks are supa-dupa-heroes capable of supernatural acts and effortless panache...and they don't get hurt. The shit they pull off is crazy-unbelievable--but, in the context of the film's little world, it almost makes sense. Anyway, it's a lot more fun to watch than a bunch of sexed-up bitch slapping.

So let me put it to you this way: If you need a cute, brainless, fast-paced, large-popcorn movie on a summer night--a movie with lots of skin, bad jokes, and classic metal--then this is your slice of cherry pie. And if you don't: What's your problem?

 
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