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.