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Movie review: 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'

2 star (out of 4)

People have said they'd pay to see Sir Lawrence Olivier reciting the dictionary or Otis Redding singing the phone book, and to that list we can add seeing Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu giggling, kicking and dancing in skimpy outfits for almost two hours.

They did all that in 2000's "Charlie's Angels," and that's all they do in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle." You can't really call what they're doing "acting" any more than you can call these franchise entries "movies," at least in the traditional sense of people playing characters to tell a story.There wasn't much story in the first installment, even less this time, and what's here doesn't make a lick of sense. But no matter - this movie isn't actually about being about anything.

Its purpose is simply to allow you to soak up the happy grrrrl-power vibes of this easy-on-the-eyes trio amid unevenly executed computer-enhanced action scenes, at which points the movie resembles a video game. And did I mention those fab skimpy outfits? If the Guinness Book included a record for most camera angles employed to shoot derrieres, "Angels" director McG (nee Joseph McGinty Nichol) would hold the crown.There's nothing inherently wrong with a loosey-goosey approach to narrative; it's not as if audiences flocked to the early-'60s Rat Pack films for their sophisticated storytelling. "Full Throttle" stresses the value of female friendship - a good thing, don't you know - while luring in the fellas with a motocross chase, explosions and pumped-up T&A, including gratuitous scenes of the Angels wiggling to M.C. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" and posing as exotic dancers.

The buzzword for these "Charlie's Angels" movies is "fun." Almost every frame of "Full Throttle" is dedicated to impressing upon you what a giddy time Diaz, Barrymore and Liu had while making it. (The same could be said of their recent promotional interviews.) Even the end-credits outtakes and a throwaway post-credits scene amount to one long stretch of laughing and bonding.

Their giddiness is presumed to be infectious, and you may have "fun" as the movie breezes along, just as long as you're not bothered by feeble writing and sloppy filmmaking. The plot, what there is of it, involves the goofy Natalie (Diaz), the gritty Dylan (Barrymore) and the acrobatic Alex (Liu) trying to beat mobsters to two stolen rings that, when coupled together, provide a key to everyone in the witness-protection program. Yes, the nation's witness-protection information is encoded on rings - and in case you don't know what the witness-protection program is, Alex offers a lengthy explanation. The movie's random nature is established in the opening set piece, which takes place in northern Mongolia - as opposed to, say, southern Mongolia. The filmmakers, including writers John August ("Go") and Cormac and Marianne Wibberly ("I Spy"), must have thought northern Mongols look particularly menacing, or that the Angels would appear especially cute in sub-Arctic hot pants.

Our first glimpse of an Angel is Liu's butt emerging from a box, and the movie's first line is her announcement, "Get off the babysitter! Daddy's home." Such sharp wit no doubt baffles those northern Mongols.

Before the sequence has ended, Natalie has ridden an "Urban Cowboy"-era bucking-horse machine, Dylan has played drinking games with the northern Mongols, and the three have pulled off an airborne escape so absurd that you can't help but chuckle.

The rest of the time, though, avoidance of chuckling is easy. For one, the jokes are so dumb, it's almost as if they've been written as a parody of bad jokes. We learn that Dylan actually used to be named Helen Zass, which leads to a slew of butt puns ("So asinine!") that the Angels think are hilarious. And when someone falls into a pit of flames, Alex declares, "She is so fired!"

Maybe this really is meant to be a parody of lame writing. After all, we're talking about movies dedicated to giving a tongue-in-cheek spin to a TV series that was silly to begin with.

"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" is sort of post-modern camp, referencing decades of pop culture without a discernible point of view. When Jaclyn Smith makes a cameo as original Angel Kelly Garrett, the moment is presumably funny because … oh, just because!

McG, meanwhile, is such a fussy director that he can't let a second of screen time pass without some song snippet to cue your reactions. The Angels dress up as blue nuns, we hear a "Sound of Music" tune. The Angels walk through lawn sprinklers - "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

The soundtrack goulash is heavy on the '80s, even though "Charlie's Angels" was a late-'70s show. No matter - this is indistinguishable nostalgia for aged cheese.

Replacing Bill Murray, Bernie Mac plays Bosley, the conduit between the gals and the unseen Charlie, and the movie has nothing funny for him to do. The idea that he and the previous white Bosley are brothers is amusing, mostly because this fact is tossed off without comment, but otherwise Mac spends too much time doing fish-out-of-water pratfalls instead of using his burning screen presence to any advantage.Also wasted is John Cleese as Alex's dad. His primary function is to stifle horrified looks as he repeatedly misunderstands that his daughter's secret job is being a prostitute.

As for the Angels, the most animated is, surprisingly, Liu. She invests much game energy in kicking butt and delivering not-so-wisecracks with a smile.

Barrymore's Dylan remains the heart of the trio, but her main conflict here - the fear that Natalie will leave the trio because she's moving in with her sweetheart (Luke Wilson) - is sitcom dumb. Diaz, meanwhile, just keeps reprising her leggy, booty-swirling dances from last time. Her incessant grinning has a face-froze-that-way quality, and her makeup artists do her no favors; in some close-ups she looks a bit haggard, like a thirtysomething playing a high-schooler.

But those signs of age are preferable to Demi Moore, who, yes, looks fine and sculpted in a bikini, but who seems to have lost most mobility in the top half of her face; I think I saw her eyebrows move once. Her fallen Angel is so stern and humorless, she could be a "Terminator" villain.

I'd be happy with less Demi and more of Crispin Glover's Thin Man, a holdover from the first movie who has the endearingly bizarre habit of ripping out tufts of hair, sniffing them and shrieking. Barrymore's attempt to reciprocate provides one of the stranger, and thus bigger, laughs.

You know the creative tank is an echo chamber when a movie resorts to Hollywood inside humor. Not only does Matt LeBlanc return as an action star cracking sequel jokes (LeBlanc as an action star is the joke), but "Full Throttle" features the obligatory shots of the Hollywood sign and a climax outside a movie premiere.

The sound you hear is pop eating itself.

"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"
Directed by McG; written by John August, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley; photographed by Russell Carpenter; edited by Wayne Wahrman; production designed by J. Michael Riva; music by Edward Shearmur; produced by Leonard Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen. A Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday, June 27. Running time: 1:45. MPAA rating: PG-13 (action violence, sensuality and language/innuendo).
Natalie - Cameron Diaz
Dylan - Drew Barrymore
Alex - Lucy Liu
Jimmy Bosley - Bernie Mac
Thin Man - Crispin Glover
Seamus O'Grady - Justin Theroux

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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