[21 October 2003]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
It’s funny, because we never want to be male bashing, but we realized that that kick to the balls might be misconstrued as a little bit of a male bash.
—McG, commentary track, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
“There’s Cameron really makin’ it happen back there, makin’ chicken salad out of chicken shit. She does such a good job. She’s so effervescent.” So bubbles McG, exultant director of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and commentator on one of the audio tracks for Columbia’s new DVD, telestrating like a football show’s anchor. In his enthusiasm, McG tends to focus on such moments, loving his performers and his own filmmaking decisions, such as the first, seemingly uncut shot that introduces all three Angels: “It’s sort of an ode to my hero, Martin Scorsese,” McG says. “I really like steadicam shots, so we hid all the cuts.”
It’s hard to deny his excitement, though the film is, ultimately, less coherent than he describes it. Columbia’s DVD release (which comes in rated and unrated forms) allows another chance to thrill to the antics of Nat (Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore), and Alex (Lucy Liu), and to pick apart the plot’s illegible aspects. In addition to McG’s commentary track, the DVD includes one by the writers, who worked serially—John August, and Cormac Wibberly and Marianne Wibberly. August notes, cutely, “I guess they asked us to do this just to prove that writers worked on this.” Marianne Wibberly laughs, “Who are we kidding who’s listening to this right now?” August sets to task: “Perhaps we can shed some light on what was intended for the plot.” Their memories have mostly to do with money, the many instances when their ideas were reduced in scale and expense, so they point out cut scenes, stunts, and effects, and changed plot points and locations, repeatedly.
Whatever the writers’ ambitious intentions for “plot,” the movie is essentially a series of first, fabulous dance and stunts scenes, and second, zany costume changes. The first includes martial arts wirework in Northern Mongolia (this following that faux-steadicam opening, a more or less standalone scene that the writers describe as “Like the Bond movies, where the opening set piece has nothing to do with the rest of the movie,” and which Mcg describes as a combination of CG extensions and real elements, adding that he’s “so glad to clear that Rage Against the Machine song, I think it added so much grit to this”).
This scene begins with Liu’s contortionist stand-in folding herself out of a box, Diaz on the mechanical yak, and Dylan drinking with the rough Mongolians, described by McG as “the boot-stomping good time of our homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, so to speak, and naturally, Drew and I are huge Karen Allen fans.” The scene is driven by the rescue of an agent played by Robert Patrick, of whom McG says, in his rat-a-tat shorthand, “Good guy. Obviously a huge Terminator 2 fan… a real guy’s guy, drives around in an old Camaro, races motorcycles around, he’s supercool.” The fact that the character is discovered mid-torture also gives McG brief pause: “This was a little bit of a lightning rod because of the Daniel Pearl stuff that was going on, we thought it might be too dark and too violent. But I think we ultimately got away with it, with this sort of hostage idea and being videotaped.”
Other stunty scenes include the high-flying motocross with mistress Pink; and warehouse beatdowns by thugs wielding chains and pipes. Not to mention the Angels’ energetic infusion of Singin’ In the Rain sofa-steps into Hammer Time (“U Can’t Touch This”) meets Dance Fever (choreographer Robin Antin earns big points for this brief number, though the already infamous whips-and-asses number, with the Pussycat Dolls, is less clever).
The second series, the costume-based set pieces, is less compelling, following on the tv series’ fondness for putting the girls in skimpy outfits. So, the girls dress up as motocross bikers (color-coded); nuns (where the Playboy Mansion doubles as an orphanage; “I hope I don’t go to hell for that,” says McG); a luridly lit investigation scene that combines CSI and Manhunter; or Pussycat Doll dancers. Between dancing and fighting, the Angels don’t have much downtime, though the office visits with Charlie via speakerphone provide the same skidding slow-down as in the first film, as do the comic observations and much-love offered by Bosley (Bernie Mac, of whom McG says, “Here’s a guy who’s from Chicago, who’s lived such a different life than the life that the three girls and myself, we’ve all lived, and he adds such a new dimension, new fresh voice, new take on the human condition”). More precisely, he’s Bill Murray’s Bosley’s brother, looking more comfortable than his predecessor, though the office scenes dialogue is as stilted and strange as in the first film. Still, McG notes the scene’s approximation of a happy family: “You can see how much fun they’re all having in there” (he circles the group with his telestrator). “And that’s just the joy of the picture.” Aww.
The plot from which all these set pieces dangle is knotty and not particularly interesting, involving the Federal Witness Protection Program, a couple of titanium rings that hold a coded list of names, and Dylan’s own mysterious past. As she demonstrated in the first film, when she slept with Sam Rockwell’s villain, adorable Dylan has a penchant for falling for “bad guys.” This time out, she suffers the attentions of “the worst guy,” her fiercely mohawked ex, Seamus O’Grady (Justin Theroux, looking differently creepy than he did in Mulholland Drive). Recently released from prison (where a pre-Angel Dylan sent him when she saw him murder someone), Seamus seeks a nebulous payback; the only thing that’s certain is his repeated threat that she and her girlfriends will suffer horribly as they die, which is, of course, bad enough.
By the time this Doc Martened cretin is marching through fire à la the Terminator, Dylan experiences a little pseudo-moral panic attack, thinking she shouldn’t be bringing her own sordid history to bear on her best Angel friends. Dylan is feeling a little anxious on the boyfriend and best friend fronts anyway, as Nat’s moved in with Pete (Luke Wilson) and Alex is being re-wooed by Jason (Matt LeBlanc), with whom she is supposed to be on hiatus (LeBlanc’s entrance has him badly mimicking a “Chinese accent,” whereupon McG notes, “I was afraid it was going to feel racist, that his accent was going to feel like he were mocking people of Asian descent, but fortunately, nobody said anything. Naturally, that would never be our intention, but I’m glad it didn’t come out that way”). McG adds that Pete and Jason are rather left by the wayside:” Both these guys… in normal action movies, they’d be playing the girls.”
Here, their sweet exchanges with their SOs, on top of Seamus’ relentless prowling, have Dylan thinking that maybe the Angels aren’t forever, or perhaps, sequels don’t generate endless revenue (even with the added incentive of “Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle” girls’ briefs with “vertical stripes in various shades of green and blue,” $6.95 per). Dylan’s fretting jumpstarts a lesson on the great good of being a team player (the best result being a cameo by Jaclyn Smith, to explicate the meaning of Angelness, and to look as if she hasn’t aged a minute). This “lesson” suggests an effort to explain the Angels phenomenon, or at least rationalize it. Why do these super-skilled, super-self-sufficient girls work for this wealthy, arrogant, profoundly unhelpful guy? For the team.
This “lesson” also stands in opposition to the possibility raised by angry Lapsed Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore, around whom most of the film’s initial publicity circulated), independent woman extraordinaire. McG describes her a “sort of a hungry person who’s ambitious, who eats everything that gets in her way.” Madison’s fury at her former boss, at the social and political orders he embodies (or rather, doesn’t embody, as he’s still voiced offscreen by John Forsythe), is nearly palpable.
Here it’s easy to see why Drew Barrymore made it her mission in life to convince Moore to come back for the part. Yet again, she works hard. She snarls and slinks her way through Madison’s grudge, jumps off a building, organizes a stupendous heist, and self-hates with style. She also puts considerable energy into urging Dylan, Nat, and Alex to rethink their relationships to Charlie—not a bad idea, really. But they can’t, of course. They’re franchise players. And so poor Madison’s prodigious efforts are for naught.