Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (review)

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Clockwork Charlie

(Worst of 2003)

The most galling thing about Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle — and this is an exercise all about the escalation of gall in Hollywood — is that it has the audacity to present itself as “A Film by McG.” Like he’s Orson Welles or something, like some Grand Vision or Theory of Film informs his work, like this is a production that even approaches being worthy of being called an actual, you know, film, like it even attempts to pretend to being anything other than what it is, which is a series of incoherent, cheap-looking, badly written, and poorly directed television commercials for itself.

Look, this “Film By” stuff used to be something a director earned, a recognition that his work distinguished itself in some way. Now it gets handed out like contractually obligated candy to directors who’ve distinguished themselves by breaking box-office records through the clever method of appealing to the base adolescence of its audience, like it’s an accomplishment to have raked in dough by showing teenaged boys almost naked chicks doing boy things like kung fu and wearing Underoos.

And McG has achieved this awesome feat precisely once: with the predecessor to this atrocity. It makes me very afraid that after his next project — Hot Wheels, and how I’d love to think that that one is not going to be based on the popular child’s toy, but I doubt we’ll be so lucky — Hollywood will just hand him an Oscar without any of that tedious voting stuff getting in the way.

The second most galling thing about Full Throttle — though this is sorta a subset of the whole “Un Film de McG” issue — is that it appears to be an experiment to discover exactly how incoherent a movie can be before even girls in bikinis (and stripper costumes and tight leather and someone make it stop) are not enough to keep the audience’s attention, and in how many different ways a movie can be incoherent. And I’m not even talking about things like the appalling theft, in the opening sequence of the film, of some of the best jokes from Raiders of the Lost Ark when it makes absolutely no sense for the scene to be set where it’s set, because admirers of this film — and, in the way that on a planet with 6 billion souls, a million-to-one shot happen 6000 times a day, there are sure to be some — will claim it’s homage. Though I’m certain no one involved here, from McG on down, knows what is meant by the word “homage” — or, for that matter, by the word “auteur.”

No, I’m talking about first, story things, though of course the word “story” must be used loosely. Okay, like precisely why (and how) a U.S. marshal (Robert Patrick: Spy Kids, The Faculty) might have been kidnapped and shanghaied to Nepal, as he clearly has been in that stolen-from-Raiders opening scene, when the real reason for that scene is to have a scantily clad Cameron Diaz (Gangs of New York, The Sweetest Thing) writhe atop a mechanical bull and wouldn’t that have made a lot more sense in, say, a bar in the American West along with the added bonus of the putative reason for the scene making more sense there, too? Like what crime John Cleese (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day) could have committed to warrant his sentencing to this hellish place, as the father of Lucy Liu (Chicago, Shanghai Noon) — is there a reason for his character to be here at all beyond the not at all hilarious running gag that he believes his daughter to be a prostitute? Like why there’s a teenaged boy (Shia LaBeouf: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Holes) here at all, when he’s not even given the opportunity to act as a stand-in for the teenage audience and ogle the girls. (Yes, the trashmakers aren’t even genuinely dedicated their trash, a peculiarly American failure.) Like any sort of halfway credible connection between the thing everyone is after — stolen secret decoder rings; Frodo, call your office — and the bad guy… or, in this case, the bad gal, ex-Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore: Passion of Mind, G.I. Jane), who’s so preternaturally toned and buff in her bikini that it surely means that computer-generated characters have reached a new stage in their evolution.

But then I’m not sure what else we could expect from a screenwriting team that includes Cormac Wibberley and Marianne Wibberley, who are unembarrassed to admit they were responsible for I Spy.

But honestly, as even I will admit, Full Throttle is not about story. This is, let us remember, A Film by McG, whose biggest achievement prior to the almost impossible task of selling nearly naked women kicking ass to Hollywood audiences was selling Coca-Cola and Sugar Ray to TV audiences. He was initially hired for the first film because the intention was to create a two-hour advertisement… but surely, the intention was to create a single two-hour advertisement, not two hundred 30-second advertisements for the same product smashed up against one another, which is what Full Throttle is. And we’re not talking soft, pastoral financial-services advertisements, either — Full Throttle is akin to a compendium of ads for video games, soft drinks, candy, action movies… the kinds of ads meant to artificially stimulate your adrenaline response. But if these ads are selling Charlie’s Angels — and they are, all slo-mo and Matrix-y and quick cuts between Cameron Diaz’s nipples and Lucy Liu’s high heels crushing something — and your ass is already in the seat and the studio already has your $10 and the theater already has your concession money, then there’s no need to even attempt to communicate anything to the audience. The action sequences, which comprise the entire film, don’t have to make any sense either in a larger context or on a frame- by- frame basis. It doesn’t matter, in the motocross sequence for instance, whether we know who’s on what bike or what they’re supposed to be doing to each other — who’s trying to kill whom and who’s trying to protect whom. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about anything.

And that’s the third most galling thing about Full Throttle — it’s deliberately and with malice aforethought not about anything. It’s entire purpose is to so not be about anything that it’s not even about itself. It might as well be a collection of random images of candy-coated violence and T&A. It’s like A Clockwork Orange, only in reverse: The audience willingly stares at a slide show of sex and violence, already artificially stoked by concession-stand Coke and Skittles, and the entire point is to get us turned on by the mindlessness and barbarousness of it.

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