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Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (McG, 2003)


    After three viewings of the hyperactive Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, I’m not quite certain that I have a firm grip on what it is precisely that makes it exert such a firm (but enjoyable) grip on me, but that hardly impedes the amount of fun that I have while watching it. On my first viewing, I mostly enjoyed the endless procession of set pieces and costume changes, and rode along on the brainless, feel-good vibe. I don't usually get caught up in this mode of frenzied, shallow filmmaking, but something about Throttle’s total lack of pretense made it easy for me to give in, even though I disliked the first Angels movie. It’s almost identical to its high-concept predecessor in mode of attack, but I think the sequel is simply more consistent at delivering more inspired set pieces and more amusing, absurdist situations than its predecessor, a film that I found myself admiring more in concept than execution.


    The second time through I tried, mostly without success, to examine the style and what it was saying. The closest I got was to note that there’s a vibe running throughout that seems to comment upon our collective need for instant gratification. There's a tendency to resolve any suspense in a matter of quick shots instead of a matter of scenes. The Angels have zero reaction time to any situation that arises and seem totally adept in navigating whichever pop-culture fantasia that the movie is taking place in at a given moment. Whenever they aren't spurting catch phrases or spouting PG-13 acceptable innuendo, they are making pop culture references, in a way, the message here is that they are empowered because of their pop-culture awareness. When the movie asks us to recall as many outside sources as it does, it’s attempting to gratify us by showing us that we’re, at least on some level, able to keep up with the superhuman Angels. The endless references to songs, styles of clothing, and modes of filmmaking serve as emotional shorthand, giving the audience members something to identify with.  In most films, those references are slotted into a context that makes them relevant to the characters and situations in the film we're watching and any outside association on the audience’s part is a bit superfluous. In Full Throttle, these references themselves might become the text by virtue of being the most substantive element present. Even then, because they are so tenuously tied together, the best that can be said is that they might only be present to serve the audience's expectation of fun (which worked for me, since I do indeed find it fun...). Full Throttle’s only demand upon the audience is a firm awareness of pop culture. To anyone that possesses that, it offers a parade of endless and easy gratification.


    Every Hollywood blockbuster operates by these rules to some extent, but few, if any push this style to this extreme. Has any movie ever relied more on the hope that the audience was completely keyed into its sense of fun? Has any movie ever so completely disregarded believability? Has any movie ever had more pop-culture references? If you strip them away, the flashy style is all that's left, so it becomes the movie's meaning. That this movie exists at all is its social commentary. I honestly have no idea how much of the satire is intentional, but there seems to me a clear vibe running throughout that mocks the very notion of the Hollywood blockbuster. Matt LeBlanc plays an obvious Tom Cruise caricature (I love his Maximum Extreme hand gestures). Demi Moore is treated like a demi-god, probably because she was the first woman to earn an 8 figure salary for a movie. It goes further than that, though. Much of the film's instant gratification, stimulus/response shell game comes with caveats. The "look but don't touch" striptease scenes are the most obvious examples, since they reduce the T&A to PG-13 levels, denying the audience what they want to see most (or have we been trained to want the innuendo and not the nudity?). Crispin Glover's Thin Man character's hair-smelling obsession seems to be a critique of that sort of reckless self-entitlement because he acts to get an immediate sense of fulfillment without weighing the results. Paradoxically though, he gets the girl, and the girls always come out on top, so maybe it's not criticizing anything, and maybe it's just hyper-aware of the way that things tend to work in these movies. Maybe we're all turning into the group of impatient, screaming kids that the film focuses on as they wait to cross the street. Pop culture becomes the great equalizer when it reduces us all to an infantile state. The fortunate side effect of Full Throttle's schizophrenic approach is that any disappointment with a scene is fleeting since another, wildly different one will be along in seconds. In any case, I was too intrigued and too entertained by what I saw in Full Throttle to write it off, much less consider it The Death of Cinema. As I wrote earlier, I can't think of a single movie that pushes this mode of filmmaking farther, for better or worse. If nothing else, it's a startling/shining example of Hollywood's ability to absorb everything, including anti-Hollywood sentiment, and regurgitate it as something sexier, flashier, more fun, and less filling.




Jeremy Heilman