Review: “Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle”

If there’s one thing which I cop the most flack for in regards to my personal taste, its my appreciation for trash. All too many people take much of life way too seriously or have to categorise things in very select ways and consequently find it hard to appreciate things which may be shonky looking but have a very specific appeal to you.

Trash fans love the sheer tackiness and over indulgence of places like Las Vegas, the fun of watching “Baywatch” in an effort to see what insanely stupid ideas for storylines the writers (ahem!) try to come up with in an effort to explain away numerous ‘slow-mo running in bikini’ sequences, the sheer delight of the all so choreographed “Jerry Springer” antics in which guys tell girlfriends they’ve been sleeping around with women who turn out to be transsexuals, and the gloriously twisted works of the likes of John Waters and Aaron Spelling. If none of that appeals to you then this film is probably not your thing, but then again neither would the first have been.

Throughout its production the original “Charlie’s Angels” movie adaptation was all set to be dead on arrival – with practically no script even though over a dozen writers had worked on drafts, an unheard of music video director with a three letter name, and a budget blowout of staggering proportions, it seemed doomed…and then it was screened and surprised a lot of people.

Somehow out of the mess and talk of disaster emerged a high-production value trashy action comedy – in a time when films were being heavily criticised for their over elaborate stunts and lack of good story development, here was a movie which thrived on the idea that it knew it was an absolute ball of trash and actually gained strength from that fact. From the much ample cleavage of its leads, to the deliciously stupid over the top performances by the likes of Crispin Glover, it was the almost textbook definition of a real Summer action blockbuster (albeit released in the Fall). Whilst most reviewers I talked to do did go overboard in their praise, most agreed it was much to their shock a real fun ride.

Now comes the sequel and it’ll be interesting to see how people react to this. In many ways whilst the first film was a ‘textbook Summer action movie’, this is a ‘textbook Summer movie sequel’ – its basically a retread of the first film with the exact same sense of ridiculously over the top fun and explosive action present, but on a bigger and louder scale with more characters and more money to spend. Consequently it also suffers from the standard case of ‘sequelitis’ in which despite its more elaborate production values, everything has a more marketed and artificial feel to it.

We’ve been treated well in recent months with the likes of “Two Towers” and “X2” – action sequel epics that stand out on their own right and generally are considered slightly superior to their acclaimed originals. ‘Charlies’ falls more into the realm of the likes of say “Scream 2” or “American Pie 2”, both are extremely good follow-ups to classic films and their first viewing can be a more fun experience, however overall there’s that something missing and the more you think about it the less rewatch value there is.

That’s strange to say because that whilst the first film didn’t have much of a story, at least this time around there does seem to be a semblance of a script even if its a little disjointed. The story feels like a limp setup around a series of big action sequences and gag references, with many supporting characters serving purely perfunctory purposes, but that’s kind of the idea. They know people like the sheer stupid over-the-topness of the first film and so up the ante to the point where there’s no sense trying to apply logic to what goes on here, especially in regards to action sequences (its like a David Lynch movie made with a lot less IQ, don’t try to understand it – just sit back and enjoy the ride).

The action itself is quite exciting with the more notable scenes including a massive dirt bike race, the opening North Mongolian escape sequence, the end rooftop fight battle, and a massive near-cage fight at some dockyards. The martial arts action has become commonplace these days, but some of these manuevers are pretty brutal and McG’s impressive technique for visuals gives the production both a high gloss feel and a superbly fast pace.

Performances are fine but many involved aren’t really given much to do. Barrymore, Diaz and Liu all do their same strong work, Diaz in particular showing a real knack for comedy (I swear those flashback scenes of her in her braces cracks me up each time) and the trio do seem to have a genuine chemistry, working better together as a team this time around. Sadly one big missing factor here is Bill Murray, whilst his work in the first film wasn’t great it was still for the most part funny.

Bernie Mac has shown off some good work in the past, but here the material for him is just SO dead and drained its not funny whatsoever, and when things move to his parents house in South Central don’t even get me started. The one joke of his which generates a slight twitter (regarding ‘living with fat women’) sounds improvised by Mac more than something in the very P.C. script, a shame he didn’t do more of that. Also returning from the first film is Crispin Glover as The Thin Man who gets one good scene with Drew near the end but otherwise is a complete waste here, his inclusion is so useless its laughable. Luke Wilson & Matt LeBlanc reprise their roles and again have nothing to do sadly, LeBlanc fairing the better of the two.

Onto the newcomers and its good to see the return of Demi Moore to the big screen from which she’s been missing it seems for an age. Moore has never been the greatest actress in the world, but she’s a good choice for this part and has fun with the somewhat silly role even if short of one scene on a beach, she doesn’t actually appear in the movie until 30 minutes before the end (the ‘keeping her hidden’ trick is useless).

Justin Theroux puts on an overboard Irish accent to play a recently released mobster and brings a solid manic energy to a rather underwritten role even though he’s part of one of the film’s more stupid subplots involving Drew’s past (although there’s some great references in that flashback). John Cleese appears as Liu’s father though only to serve as the butt of a running gag involving him thinking his daughter is a hooker, “Holes” star Shia LaBeouf has a nice small role as a biker kid who ends up staying in the film far longer than he’s welcome, and Robert Patrick & Bruce Willis have small parts which serve only to setup the plot. Cameos galore from Carrie Fisher and Pink to a certain ex-Angel are well spread throughout the movie.

The producers seem to have realised they may have been a little sexist to the girls last time so they’ve brought in two hunks who very briefly bare their chests in two scenes to help hide the fact the female nudity quotient is WAY higher this time around with LOTS of lingering close-ups of not only cleavage and buns, but inner thighs and various chicks in quite tight thongs. From Cameron Diaz soaking herself in a strip club tub, to a naked emergence (I SWEAR I could see nipples here) of our trio in a warehouse, this really pushes the limit on PG-13 of how suggestive you can be without actually showing anything. It helps all these girls look absolutely gorgeous, thin as hell, but damn hot.

Demi Moore in particular, a woman in her early 40’s and whose had three kids, looks so utterly amazing in her bikini that good-looking girls half her age are going to be insanely jealous. Her slow-mo walk up to her car shot is pretty much the best endorsement there’ll ever be for a combination of good eating, exercise, plastic surgery and well-placed lighting. “Behind the Sun” hunk Rodrigo Santoro will have people drooling in his non-speaking part which basically goes to show off his amazing chest. On the other hand Theroux is pumped up beyond the point of reason – there’s no body fat on this man whatsoever, every single vein and muscle on his body stands out in high relief to the point its grotesque.

The problems people will have with this movie are what many will say are its strengths and that’s the beauty of trash really. Yes its hyperfast, yes its plots of both small and large type are scratchy at best, a lot of the humour misfires, the action serves only itself, its too focussed on the outfits and effects rather than any development of character or story, etc. McG and company aren’t making art here, they’re doing a piece purely serving as escapist entertainment and whilst the sad truth is that as these type of films go it should have been better, it still is way and above the likes of similar stuff like this last year (ie. “xXx”) and a more entertaining movie than pretty much any other release that has come out this month in the US (though I wouldn’t call “2 Fast 2 Furious” or “Hollywood Homicide” tough competition to beat). Whilst it may have been more setup and artificial, I still had a thoroughly fun time watching ‘Full Throttle’ even though its not one I’m in a hurry to rush out and see again.