This review was corrected on June 26, 2003.
Bigger, sleeker and better than the first, sequel “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” is a joyride of a movie that takes the winning elements of the year 2000 hit to the next level. Sweet spirited, kick-ass action comedy will be a crowd-pleaser across the board and a turbo-charged money machine in all markets, with its crowning achievement a keen appreciation for what both male and female viewers yearn to see.
Opening action is huge, with Angels (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu) infiltrating a roiling crowd of fur-suited barbarians in a Mongolian bar. Comic tone is set when Diaz takes a slo-mo, sensual spin on a mechanical yak, but before the titles unfurl the ladies have leapt through a sugar-glass window, blown up an M-60 tank and flown though a canyon dangling from a helicopter.
Plot provides at least a filament of logic, with the angels in pursuit of a pair of rings that, put together, crack the code on the whereabouts of everyone in the federal witness protection program. Personal stakes come in when it’s revealed that Dylan (Barrymore) is herself in danger, having blown the whistle in her secret past life on a killer (Justin Theroux) who’s now coming after her.
But story’s merely a catch-all for the fun that ensues. Helmer McG, returning from the original, has a rare gift for making the action fresh, clean and cohesive, and pairing it with a party mix of pop cultural elements and a cross-generational, wall-to-wall soundtrack that are spot on for today’s cable-primed, culture-savvy auds.
At one point, the girls are helping Natalie (Diaz) move in with her boyfriend (Luke Wilson), but, distracted by an MC Hammer video playing in the living room, they drop their packing boxes and dance together. Editing is so seamless as to make the action inevitable, and a prime example of the playfulness and sisterhood at the heart of the movie’s appeal.
Standout sequences include a sexy, speedy motocross contest in which the high-flying bikers compete in a coal dump; and a bump-and-grind dance number that will ensure brisk sales around the world.
Bruising fight scenes — some built around martial arts and wirework — kick the action into the hardcore arena, but even then, McG’s talent for keeping it light and for churning out indelible movie images makes the violence exhilarating rather than numbing.
Diaz, whose salary soared to $20 million for the sequel, flashes megawatt star power, exuding lunatic charm and klutzy puppy dog lovability, paired with a killer bod and a smile as wide as a highway billboard. But Barrymore, as both co-star and producer, also makes as big a contribution. Her up-from-nothing, hip-bumping, air-guitar playing Dylan is the movie’s sisterly soul, and her guiding vision of the franchise as a place where male and female viewers can find equal satisfaction is its masterstroke.
New chapter features the return to the screen of Demi Moore, exuding steely intensity and strong fighting chops as a vengeful dark angel who goes bikini-to-bikini with Diaz in a beach scene — and holds her own — and the introduction of Bernie Mac, suitably funny in a kookily conceived turn as the brother of the original Bosley (the absent Bill Murray). Adding interest are a slew of cameos, including a chiseled Bruce Willis, Eric Bogosian, and OA (original angel) Jaclyn Smith.
Production makes marvelous use of iconic Los Angeles locations, from Griffith Observatory (not seen in cinema to this extent since “Rebel Without a Cause”) to the Hermosa Beach strand to Musso & Frank Grill, and is one a series of recent actioners (“The Italian Job,” “Hollywood Homicide”) to film extensively on revitalized Hollywood Boulevard.