Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

Cynthia Fuchs

Madison Lee draws so near to Nat that she seems ready to lick the younger Angel's pretty, smile-plastered face.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

Director: McG
Cast: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore, Bernie Mac, Justin Theroux
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Columbia
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-06-27
Matt Lauer: You've spent the last several years trying to stay out of the spotlight and now, let's face it, you are right back in it. How does that feel?

Demi Moore: It's a familiar place to be, and it's not always comfortable. And it's sometimes a little scary. But it's like all things, you know, that you keep just riding through, wading through.

Occasioned by her role in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Demi Moore's recent appearance on Today (23 June), like all her recent press forays, gave rise to predictable questions: Why did you leave Hollywood? Why are you back? How do you feel about seeing your 40-year-old, three-daughters-later body in a bikini? What's up with Ashton Kutcher? Lauer was answering his own questions in the asking ("Tell me about Madison Lee [her character in the film]. She's kind of the nasty Angel..."), while Moore sat with her legs carefully crossed, smiled brightly, and fiddled with her hands nonstop.

That she was at once reasonable (on Kutcher: "You have to meet him"), soundbite-able (on her body: "It's about being happy from the inside out"), and visibly ill at ease (hand twisting) is to Moore's credit. Ever a trooper, her long absence from the business has likely granted her perspective, perhaps some sense of the enormous silliness of the present enterprise. Idaho, school recitals, producing Austin Powers: how fine would all that be for a former trailer parker-turned-Brat-Packer?

Frequently accused of arrogance, audacity, and mediocrity, Moore had to deal early on with questions regarding her talent, her worth, her meaning -- Ghost made her the sort of star who's supposed to repeat herself rather than change, a lovely girly celebrity grateful for her accolades. Moore couldn't be that, apparently. Everything for Demi Moore looks like a test. She mothers seriously. And goodness knows her marriage to Willis couldn't have been easy. She works hard. In all her movies -- from St. Elmo's Fire (1985), A Few Good Men (1992), and the skin-crawly Indecent Proposal (1993), to the more famous efforts, like The Scarlet Letter (1995), Striptease (1996), and the hellish ordeal of G.I. Jane (1997) -- her movies are never breezy or even very pleasant. It's a wonder she survived her success.

And now she's back, as the Lapsed Angel. Coming on Natalie (Cameron Diaz) on the beach, Madison handles her board and her body like she's been around. "You're my favorite Angel!" gushes giddy Nat, recalling that her idol once solved a case using Cosmo's Bedside Astrologer. "I also set the clock on Charlie's VCR," adds Madison, drawing oohs for her extraordinary skills. She draws so near to Nat that she seems ready to lick the younger Angel's pretty, smile-plastered face. This girl has got it going on.

She's also the most entertaining aspect of Full Throttle. This despite the fact that she's only on screen a few minutes, as her adversarial relationship to the current, mostly blissful Angels -- Nat, Dylan (Drew Barrymore), and Alex (Lucy Liu) -- is supposedly a "secret" for the film's first hour. Until she's outed in her black-catsuity ensemble with big gold handguns, the movie offers a series of fabulous stunts: martial arts wirework in Northern Mongolia; motocross with mistress Pink; and warehouse beatdowns by thugs wielding chains and pipes. Not 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 little number, though the already infamous whips-and-asses number is less clever).

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). 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 (until Madison has it out with Charlie, with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion).

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. These sweet exchanges, 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 former Angel Madison, independent woman extraordinaire. Her 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. And 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.

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