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(2003) (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: Three beautiful and sexy detectives try to find and retrieve two rings -- that contain the names of everyone on the Federal Witness Protection Program -- before they fall into the wrong hands.
Natalie Cook (CAMERON DIAZ), Dylan Sanders (DREW BARRYMORE) and Alex Munday (LUCY LIU) are three private investigators who work for Charlie Townsend (voice of JOHN FORSYTHE), a reclusive figure they've never met who delivers their assignments to them via speakerphone. Their intermediary contact is Bosley (BERNIE MAC), who's new to the job.

Their latest assignment involves freeing U.S. Government employee Ray Carter (ROBERT PATRICK) from a Mongolian cell. Unfortunately, they're unable to retrieve one of two rings that contain the complete lists of everyone under the Federal Witness Protection Program. Realizing that could mean big trouble if they fell into the wrong hands - such as that of Dylan's ex-beau, Seamus O'Grady (JUSTIN THEROUX) who's just been released from prison and has revenge on his mind - the Angels set out to accomplish their goal.

Along the way, they run into former Angel Madison Lee (DEMI MOORE) as well as the mysterious Thin Man (CRISPIN GLOVER). At the same time, Natalie contemplates marriage with her boyfriend Pete (LUKE WILSON), while actor Jason (MATT LeBLANC) tries to explain Alex's real job to her father, Mr. Munday (JOHN CLEESE), but only ends up confusing and worrying him.

Facing repeated run-ins with O'Grady and his thugs, and the switching of an alliance, the Angels do what they can to retrieve the encoded rings.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
A common phrase among older teens and those who've never quite abandoned their adolescence is "put the pedal to the metal." That, of course, refers to stomping down on one's accelerator, thus fully opening the throttle and pushing the engine to its limits. Depending on the car, that can mean instant but mindless glee, or an unwieldy vehicle that quickly gets out of control or eventually runs out of gas.

Former music video director turned feature filmmaker McG obviously likes to stomp down on the cinematic accelerator and not let up until the finish line is crossed. Whether the course taken is wise or not seems to make little difference. Instead, he seems to be yelling, "Hang on, this is going to be a blast!" as he takes us on yet another wild ride with angels in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle."

Much like many other sequels that have to be bigger, louder and more boisterous than their predecessors, this follow-up to the 2000 hit adaptation of the old 1970s TV show might not be the smartest vehicle on the road. Yet, it has pep and fuel to spare and rarely takes the time to slow down during its slightly less than two hour runtime.

The throwaway plot - penned by John August ("Charlie's Angels," "Go") and Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley ("I Spy," "The 6th Day") - is about some stolen rings that contain lists of those under the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Why the government would keep such lists in such a manner is never addressed, but none of that's as important as keeping the throttle open and showing everyone a good time. The result is a film that - like the first - varies wildly in its quality and entertainment quotient, but is as instantly forgettable as a speed limit sign passed at 180 m.p.h.

Despite ramping up the energy, action scenes and sex appeal, McG and company have been careful not to stray too far off the course that made the first film such a hit. There's the Bond-esque action-filled opening, the humorous parody of the TV's weekly character introduction, romantic subplots (minus one Tom Green), various dance moments and plenty of Matrix style fight sequences. While all of that falls under the hit or miss category, it also feels more than a bit familiar and/or recycled.

What makes the film work and be fairly fun to watch, however, are the three returning stars, Cameron Diaz ("Gangs of New York," "The Sweetest Thing"), Drew Barrymore ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Riding in Cars With Boys") and Lucy Liu ("Chicago," "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever"). As was the case the first time around, they truly seem to be having a blast playing their parts, and their enthusiasm is fairly contagious.

In essence, they're simply playing "dress up" where they go from one barely related segment to the next appearing in different forms of dress and/or disguise. The results vary, but such an approach gives the film even more of a fragmented and episodic feel than the first possessed. For those who like the thought of short attention span theater, the offerings will be right up their alley. For others, however, the high voltage but sporadic approach might get a bit old and/or boring after a while.

If that's the case, such viewers can run out the clock by trying to count all of the celebrities who appear in the film as major players, supporting characters or just brief cameo bits. While Crispin Glover ("Willard," "Like Mike") returns from the first film, he only occasionally shows up, unlike Bill Murray who's nowhere to be found.

In his place is another Bosley, this time played by Bernie Mac ("Head of State," "Ocean's Eleven"). He's not quite as aloof as Murray's take on the character and seems more in on the fun. Even so, he's sadly underused, as is John Cleese ("Die Another Day," "The Adventures of Pluto Nash"). He's present simply for his comic reaction to misunderstanding what his daughter - one of the Angels - does for a living (he's under the impression she's an escort/hooker, thus leading to various bits of comedic innuendo).

The likes of Robert Patrick ("The Faculty," "Terminator 2"), Justin Theroux ("Mulholland Drive," "American Psycho") and Demi Moore ("G.I. Jane," "Striptease") are all okay in their respective roles, with the latter having no problem showing off her buff, 40-year-old bod in a barely there bikini. Luke Wilson ("Alex & Emma," "Old School") and Matt Leblanc ("Lost in Space," TV's "Friends") reprise their roles from the fist outing, but are also barely there.

With the film filled to the brim with petal to the medal action and goofy comedy, there's little room or time for character development. Considering that nearly every scene or sequence is really just a standalone vignette, McG does get in a few good ones. They include a spicy rendition of Henry Mancini's Pink Panther theme in a strip club and another revelatory one - set to the terrific beginning of the B-52's "Planet Claire" - that pop off the screen with plenty of visual style and bravado to spare.

It's just too bad that the rest of the film - including its various parody bits (such as spoofing the remake of "Cape Fear") - that pale in comparison to what "The Simpsons" have done with similar material - doesn't always fire and/or deliver on all cylinders.

Even so, you could obviously do far worse when it comes to a film like this. Designed as nothing more than the ultimate summer popcorn flick, the film has its moments and certainly benefits from the enthusiastic presence - if not real performances - of its leading ladies. Wild, loud and certainly brimming with cinematic octane - along with an unfortunate sense of familiar redundancy - "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 19, 2003 / Posted June 27, 2003

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