Category Archives: Archived Movies

CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE

In a curious way this sequel to “Charlie’s Angels” is a complete success. It proves beyond the slightest doubt that a female buddy-action movie can be every bit as brainless and aggravating as those starring guys. The subtitle is “Full Throttle,” and the picture certainly is that, moving under McG’s whiplash, music video-style direction at breakneck speed. But it’s less a coherent story than a chain of shapeless set-pieces, vulgar gags, pointless cameos and stabs at sentiment; the movie feels as though it had been written by the trio’s resident scatterbrain Natalie (Cameron Diaz), even though the script is credited (though that’s hardly the proper word) to John August (the first “Angels” and the animated bomb “Titan A.E.”) and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley (“The 6th Day” and “I Spy”). That rogue’s gallery of titles should give you some idea of its quality.

The plot is a bit of hogwash involving a couple of rings which, when joined together, reveal the new identities and addresses of everybody enrolled in the federal witness protection program, and the Angels’ attempt to retrieve them. But though there’s the barest wisp of a thread maintained throughout, the most basic logic is quickly dismissed whenever an idea for a quip, a fight, a race, a bad pun or a show of female camaraderie arises. Individually some of them have a certain snap, but collectively they amount to overkill. The action episodes, from the opening Mongolian escape scene to a motorcycle race and the final splashy confrontation on Hollywood Boulevard, are agonizingly overdone, with loads of physically absurd stunts accomplished by an abundance of special effects alternating with brutally bone-crunching moments. The humor is of the lowest sort, ranging from Natalie’s tiresome klutziness to awful verbal jokes (for example, when, in comparing notes about their high school years, Natalie and boyfriend Pete report that they both dressed up as mascots, it’s inevitable that he should have been a Cock and she a Beaver–hah-hah; and the big gag between Lucy Liu’s Alex and her father, played by John Cleese, is that he wrongly believes she’s a prostitute, allowing for innumerable double and triple entendres as they talk about her work–har-har).

Then there are the villains, an endless stream of cartoonish types. One is Seamus O’Grady (Justin Theroux), an extremely tiresome Irish gangster modeled after Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady from “Cape Fear” (actually Sideshow Bob was far funnier in the role). He turns out to have once been the boyfriend of Dylan (Drew Barrymore), who helped send him to the big house, and her original moniker was Helen Zaas–get it, heh-heh?) But we also have Robert Patrick, equally dull, as Ray Carter, a Justice Department traitor. And Crispin Glover, criminally underused as the returning Thin Man (and both literally and figuratively getting the shaft in a weird twist in the finale). And, finally, Demi Moore, as an erstwhile Angel turned crazed mastermind. Moore looks buff, to be sure, but when she recites the line “I was never good,” you might be tempted to agree with her, until she adds: “I was great.”

It’s inevitable that a few nuggets should shine amidst the general dross. Diaz shows the stuff of a real star, exhibiting a great smile and a charismatic presence; a pity she has to get pummeled so often, and fall down even more frequently. (Barrymore and Liu, on the other hand, are curiously dull, even though they get through the action moments successfully.) Bernie Mac gets laughs as the new Bosley (replacing Bill Murray), even if he seems to be doing a standup routine instead of a role. And Andrew Wilson does a brief bit as a dim-bulb cop that’s quite amusing. But almost everyone else–Luke Wilson as Pete, Cleese, Matt LeBlanc as Alex’s dumb boyfriend, Shia LeBeauf as a kid the Angels befriend, Robert Forster as the FBI chief–is wasted, and cameos by the likes of Bruce Willis, Carrie Fisher, Eric Bogosian and even ex-Angel Jaclyn Smith don’t amount to much. John Forsythe once again provides the voice of Charlie, but he at least has the good sense not to actually appear onscreen. Murray merely shows up as a photo, lucky guy. The technical side of the movie is snazzy enough, of course–this is an expensive proposition, after all–but the garishly cartoonish look is far wittier than anything in the content.

One of the major miscalculations of “Full Throttle” is the use of themes from old movies at various points in the flick. The idea isn’t in itself a bad one, but when one hears Bernard Herrmann’s brass chords from “Cape Fear,” or Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther” theme (to which the Angels stage a sultry dance number), or even “The Lonely Gotherd” from “The Sound of Music,” you may well find yourself longing to be watching those pictures rather than this one. (When the opening music to TV’s “C.S.I.” shows up at one point, you might even wish you were back home with a rerun.) There are those who celebrate the “Charlie’s Angels” movies on grounds that they give actresses the same kind of roles that men usually make huge paychecks doing. But it’s a false kind of progress, no more beneficial in the long run than when Virginia Slims were invented as a cigarette for women. Proving that females can make pictures as big, dumb and clunky as Vin Diesel vehicles is no great accomplishment; it’s more like a curse. Moviegoers would be wise to avoid its baleful effects, but at a time when insultingly idiotic comedy-action movies thrive, this dimwitted dud will probably be a smash.

ALEX AND EMMA

Romantic comedies don’t ordinarily have much heft, but Rob Reiner’s new effort is a particularly frail, vacuous example of the genre. It’s about a scruffy novelist (Luke Wilson) who falls for the perky stenographer (Kate Hudson) he hires to take dictation of a book he has to finish under deadline; of course, she falls for him, too. The “hook” that takes the movie beyond sitcom length (and the deadening reality of two people sitting around and talking for ninety minutes) is that the pair periodically play the characters in the 1924 plot he’s composing–a private tutor and an au pair girl who are also destined to link up. So there’s a symmetry in the plot of “Alex & Emma”–the “fictional” duo, Adam and Anna, gradually find romance as the “real” characters do likewise. But the picture requires a curious agreement between filmmakers and audience, too. While the leads imagine themselves in love, you have to imagine you’re being entertained by them. It’s definitely not a bargain.

Screenwriter Jeremy Leven, we’re told, based his script on an actual event in the life of Fyodor Dostoevsky, who’s supposed to have fallen for his transcriber while writing “The Gambler” under similar pressure from his publisher. But there’s a good reason why the Russian novelist never wrote about the event: even a genius would have a hard time making it remotely credible or engaging. And, as it happens, Leven is apparently no genius. Of course, in a romantic comedy one doesn’t require things to be thoroughly plausible. But it’s preferable if they have some slight basis in reality. Take, for instance, the comic villains with whom the story begins. Bobby (Lobo Sebastian) and Tony (Chino XL), bookies to whom Alex owes a bundle of cash for bets he’d put on Florida dog races, burst into his apartment and, to threaten him, dangle him out the window not once but twice, in broad daylight; and although the place is in a busy Boston neighborhood, as we see in other scenes, nobody notices. (There’s a curious disparity, too, between the trendy, gentrified street and the inside of the place, which resembles a slum dwelling.) But all that proves to be small potatoes beside the larger problems. The greatest is a complete lack of chemistry between the title characters; one never feels them getting truly close, either in the present or the novelistic “flashbacks.” (There’s no sense of the passage of time, either.) Then there’s the content of the novel. Much of the running-time is devoted to Alex dictating the text as he invents the story (it often sounds like an audio book), and despite the fact that both Emma and Alex’s publisher Wirschafter (played by Reiner himself) claim to love it, the language is cliched and dreadful–and what’s even more absurd, it wouldn’t fill a thirty-page precis, let along a 300-page tome. The concluding twists that Leven’s concocted are poor, too. They’re intended to say something about life imitating art (and/or art imitating life), but since the final product has no connection with either art or life, they fall flat.

If the script is bad, the director and his cast don’t make it seem any better. Reiner’s pacing is unrelievedly lax and lethargic–which unhappily exacerbates Wilson’s usual sleepy manner. It’s fine for a romantic leading man to be laid-back, so long as he’s charming and smooth (Cary Grant was a good example). But Wilson isn’t just absurdly relaxed; he’s shabby and dopey, too. Hudson tries to compensate by going the ain’t-she-cute route, trying for a snappy, upbeat approach that her mother might once have been hired to provide. (She’s even given a “darling” crying jag that’s supposed to be irresistible, and the assortment of foreign personalities her au pair is provided with as Alex develops his plot resemble extra-broad Carol Burnett sketches.) Hudson does bring an occasional spark of energy to the proceedings, but Wilson and the material keep extinguishing it. The supporting cast is weak as well. Reiner sleepwalks through things; David Paymer and Sophie Marceau overdo the caricatures as Adam’s employer Polina and her smarmy beau John in the 1924 scenes; and Cloris Leachman turns up for an alarmingly over-the-top cameo as Polina’s grandmother. The picture does, however, provide a rare opportunity to see a subdued Rip Taylor, who appears briefly (and bearded) as Polina’s father. If anything can be a comedown after “Hollywood Squares,” this is it. The production itself has considerable gloss–a good deal of effort was obviously put into the white-and-cream look of the twenties sequences–but sets can never save what’s going on in front of them.

Ultimately “Alex & Emma” proves a notably thin entry even in an ordinarily weak genre. The contrived, artificial quality of the script and the listless realization by all concerned make for a would-be comic tonic that lacks all fizz.