Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

Felix’s First Rule of Movies states that "films are always better on their

opening weekend". Well, if that’s true, then maybe there’s a case for adding

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

to the Ten

Worst Films of All Time list. Because I went to see it this weekend, and

it was really bad.

The good news, insofar as there is any, is that the gross for the sequel was

lower than the opening weekend of the original – something which rarely

happens with Hollywood blockbusters. This gives me some hope: that a franchise

can’t just exist in thin air, as it were, but actually needs some kind of structure

behind it if it is to succeed.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, you see, is a bit like the Scream

films: its primary interest is in spoofing the competition. Unlike the Scream

franchise, however, it seems to have forgotten that there has to be some substance

to the film as well. The tipping-of-the-cap to just about every action movie

ever made is all well and good, but ultimately only serves to remind us how

good many of the referenced films are, especially in contrast to the incoherent

mess we’re currently stuck with.

The tone is set in the pre-credit sequence, which does a great job quoting

everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to three or four different

Bond films, but which ends with a CGI sequence of such physical impossibility

that the eponymous girls are essentially treated as superheroes. If they can

do that, then to all intents and purposes they are untouchable, immortal, safe

from any harm. Which, of course, makes the rest of the movie utterly pointless,

since there’s no dramatic tension any more.

I’m not sure this wasn’t deliberate. Freed from the mundane necessities of

plot, tension or character development, the director, McG, can indulge whatever

visual fantasies he likes. Cameron Diaz doing a striptease with the aid of her

two fellow Angels? Throw it in there. In fact, let’s have all three Angels completely

naked at one point, especially since we can do a bit of Terminator-quoting at

the same time! Demi Moore in a swimsuit? And then later with Face/Off-style

gold-plated handguns? Yeah, baby!

The worst thing about Matrix Reloaded was that the action sequences,

although technically impressive, carried no emotional punch. Keanu fighting

baddies isn’t interesting, because we know the outcome in advance: he always

wins. (Only when Keanu’s quite literally out of the picture, during the car

chase, do things really get exciting.) In Charlie’s Angels, the goodies

have a few more setbacks along the way, but there also aren’t any really cool

sequences, either. There’s a very long motocross chase which even the insertion

of bullet-time cinematography in the middle can’t save, and by the time we reach

the end of the film, we’re bored stupid. Cheap jokes are only funny when they

serve to defuse tension: without tension, they’re just juvenile.

Although it has long been commonplace to pan the Hollywood blockbuster as brainless

escapism, in fact the most successful films in the genre do have structure,

plot, and even some semblance of a narrative arc. Part of the reason that The

Matrix became such an important film was that it didn’t shy away from big

ideas; they added to the excitement of seeing action in a whole new way. Spiderman

was a mess, but at least it told a story; dreck like Tomb Raider, on

the other hand, is much less successful because it tries to replace plot with

action sequences. And Charlie’s Angels, with nary an exciting or memorable

action sequence in the whole film, tries to replace plot with post-modern appropriation

and pre-modern jokes.

What I’m hoping is that the disappointing box-office performance of Charlie’s

Angels will help drive Hollywood back to action-movie basics. Some of the

greatest action films of all time (Die Hard, Speed) have actually

had very little in the way of high-budget set-piece stunts: there are maybe

one or two in all. What they have instead is a focused directorial vision, a

taut structure, and a rapt audience. By contrast, you can wander out of Charlie’s Angels

and come back half an hour later without missing anything important: that’s

bad in any movie.

Indiana Jones and James Bond can be funny because they’ve earned it. For one

thing, both heroes always suffer during the course of their movies; none of

the Angels ever does. If Indy is a well-marbled steak, then the Angels are nothing

but fat: all flavour and no muscle. I think I speak for millions of moviegoers

when I say we want something meatier.

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3 Responses to Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

  1. Michelle says:

    You know, I wanted to see “Power Puff Girls” on film and never did. Somehow I imagine it being much better than Angels. And with a little luck, Tarantino’s next flick “Kill Bill” might be a juicy alternative to mindless porn like “Charlie’s Angels” (porn is totally fine when it’s porn, but there was nothing left to the Angels film except T&A and bad jokes). I want to see real girl power… perhaps I must dabble in Hong Kong flicks for the serious stuff. I also tip my hat to Geena Davis and Jamie Lee Curtis for earlier chickita action felines in exciting and fun summer blockbusters.

  2. Jen says:

    I saw the Powerpuff Girls movie in the theater. I went with two girlfriends, and at the ticket desk, I was standing near some children. When I asked for “three tickets,” the associate said, “Two children, one adult?” “Uh, no, actually three adults.”

    Anyway, PPG movie is fun, though a little too long, even at 80 minutes. The show, however, is rad.

    My three useless cents.

  3. Matthew says:

    Agree without reservation. What irritated me the most of all was the constant feeling that the three of them were having a fine old time without bothering to include us in the joke. Oh, and Cameron Diaz’s over-muscled stomach is really gross.

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