It's tempting to judge the Charlie's Angels movies more for what they aren't than what they are. What they aren't: feminist action-comedies. What they are: unprecedentedly overblown action-burlesques. Even the credits to Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle seem self-mocking. C'mon..."A Film By McG"? They can't be serious. But connoisseurs of junk cinema, take note: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is slightly funnier, slightly smoother, and notably louder in sight and sound than the first movie.
It's also slightly more annoying the second time around. Again armed with a full arsenal of pop song snippets (39 of them, by my count), movie references, cameos, and dirty jokes, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is the sort of movie that'll pause for a dance routine to "Can't Touch This" (or an Olsen Twins sighting) at the bat of an eyelash. Back again are Drew Barrymore (as producer and the rebel Angel known as Dylan), Cameron Diaz (as accident-prone dancing fool Natalie), and Lucy Liu (as dryly funny dominatrix Alex).
The plot is as preposterous and impenetrable as ever, something to do with titanium rings encoded with vital personnel files, Dylan's rabid, Irish, ex-con/ex-boyfriend Seamus (Justin Theroux), and a retired Angel named Madison Lee (Demi Moore, who makes her big splash at the beach). Again, the film lurches forward set-piece to set-piece: Mongolian bar, surf scene, dirt-bike extravaganza, nunnery, burlesque club, high school reunion, and a Griffith Observatory showdown to accommodate Barrymore's transplanted, modern, femme "Rebel Without a Cause" fixation (check out her collection of hard-rock T-shirts). And so it goes.
McG will try anything for a laugh or a goose. In the worst tradition of Hollywood's demographic-obsessed sequels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle shoehorns in dozens of characters, from returning players (Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc as Angel boyfriends) to celebrity day-players (Eric Bogosian plays a seedy corpse) to new additions like Shia LeBeouf's Max. That there is no sensible reason for LeBeouf's character (other than his rising teen appeal) doesn't stop McG from introducing him and promptly shoving him to the sideline.
McG's worst quality is his constant, obnoxious use of movie references and hit songs to witless effect. Take the scene set in a nunnery. In some sort of sideways Blues Brothers joke, McG casts Carrie Fisher as the head nun, then scores the whole sequence to The Sound of Music's "The Lonely Goatherd" on repeat. A later scene when sprinklers photogenically douse our heroines is met with "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head." This movie kept eatin' at my brain.
Some elements of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle are irresistible. Diaz is particularly a hoot (though her jiggly, ditzy badass is emblematic of the series' mixed messages), and both Barrymore and Liu feel more at home with their characters this time out. Bernie Mac continues his roll as a consistently funny "go to" guy, playing the Bosley brother to the first film's Bill Murray. John Cleese--as Liu's papa--plays slightly less embarrassing than he has in his last half-dozen crappy Hollywood outings, Moore seems to enjoy her bitch-is-back routine, and though Theroux's bad, bad Irish boyfriend may not make for a particularly funny ripoff of DeNiro's Max Cady from Cape Fear, he makes for a hilarious send-up of Colin Farrell's on and off-screen personas. And a return engagement by Crispin Glover as the Thin Man provides the film's funniest payoff.
With an extreme sports relish, the Angels perform miraculous, wire-assisted, computer-manipulated stunts. James Bond action is ridiculous, but the action sequences here seem to take place inside The Matrix. I'm hard pressed to compare the ludicrous overturning of physical laws here to anything but a Road Runner cartoon. I know, I know: that's the whole point. It is a live-action cartoon, and I should just try to get with the program. Let's just say it's diverting overkill. It's obviously a party to make these (as witnessed in the giggly, prolonged lovefest represented by the outtake credits)--but they turn me into a wallflower.