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THREE BOMBSHELLS, ONE BOMB

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At what point does over-the-top, silly fun become an over-the-top, mindless bore? Or to borrow from Ghost World, where does "so bad it's good" end and "so bad it passes through good and comes back to bad" begin? Cartographers may still be trying to pin down that elusive border, but movie buffs can help with a new clue: The line is somewhere between the first and second Charlie's Angels movies.

The first installment was a giddy, goofy romp in which three budding starlets poked fun at Hollywood's mechanism for exploiting their sex appeal. When Cameron Diaz shook her ass, the joke was partly that she didn't have one to shake, partly that she was doing it more for her own fun than ours. The ladies took a moronic, lowest-common-denominator idea for a movie and turned it into something clever and self-aware.

Then some brainiac at Fox decided to give McG - the most feebly named man ever to direct a movie, and the name seems to match his talent - his own cops-and-robbers TV show, which seems to have convinced him that his movie was a success because people loved his action scenes. In Full Throttle, McG takes a couple of jabs at Hong Kong bulletmeister John Woo (one of the supporting characters is the star of a movie resembling Mission Impossible 2), and the comparison couldn't be worse for McG: In MI2, Woo was able to choreograph sequences so that ridiculous stunts (two cars dancing together on the edge of a cliff, for instance) were thrilling and laughable at the same time; in Full Throttle's centerpiece dirt-bike race, McG's idea of building an action sequence is to alternate close-ups of helmeted riders with CGI and slow-motion images that no viewer will believe are actual stunts being performed. Without any shred of believable danger, the director's digital stuntmen become less convincing than video-game characters, and nowhere near as fun.

Despite his lack of aptitude for action, McG uses any excuse for a stunt. His film is more ridiculous than a James Bond flick in this respect; having Lucy Liu luge down a freeway in order to attach a microphone to a car makes absolutely no sense, but the filmmakers don't seem to be lampooning the notion. They actually expect us to dig it.

The screenplay might seem to favor the Bond stunts unreasonably, if it weren't so clearly written by the makeup and hair departments - who seem to have chosen scenarios for the Angels based on what fashion

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Dir. McG; writ. John August; feat, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore, Bernie Mac (PG-13)
trend they want to ape. In one scene they're copping a bogus New Wave look, in another they're bright-blue-habited nuns. Inexplicably, the makeup artists are often able to make these cute women look used-up and ugly, although some of the credit for this must be given to the guys behind the camera, whose harshly unflattering lighting doesn't seem to have any purpose other than to make the women look pasty.

The stars' looks aren't the only assets wasted here: How can you cast John Cleese in a movie and not give him a single chance to be funny? Why would you bring back Crispin Glover - one of the most inspired touches in the first film - only to negate his character's mysterious menace? Why does Demi Moore think that this role - a one-note villainette who never gets to look very smart or sexy - would make a good comeback? And why would McG make reference to so many movies that only make his look bad?

Luckily, Full Throttle evaporates so quickly from your mind that these questions won't bother you for long. •


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