July 07, 2008

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

Back in March, I gave Charlie's Angels two stars. These stars were given in spite of the massive gender and race problems the film had, based on the relationship between the Angels and Bosley, and in the relationship between the Angels themselves.

The film's sequel, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, gets no stars. The relationship between the Angels is still more or less intact, but there is nothing else to recommend the film, and it is so sexist and so racist that I couldn't give it any stars even if there were.

Full Throttle starts with the Angels rescuing a federal agent being held hostage in Mongolia. The major features of this scene are as follows: 1) mindless hordes of Mongolians running around screaming and setting things on fire for no reason; 2) the first Angel we see, Alex (Lucy Lui), coming on to the scene out of hiding place in a wooden crate, black cat-suited ass and crotch first; and 3) Natalie (Cameron Diaz), dressed up as a Scandinavian tourist, riding a mechanical bull (possibly a mechanical yak) while shrieking "yah? yah?" over and over again.

The really amazing part is that it doesn't get better from there.

The basic formula for the film is the same as the first film (and as any other sequels that will be made, I'd think): the three Angels, assisted by Bosley, kick ass and solve crime. However, there is a major line-up difference between the first film and this one--Bosley, played by Bill Murray in the first film, is replaced by Bosley's (adopted) brother, also called Bosley, played by Bernie Mac. And rather than adding depth of color to the mostly-white show, all this casting change does provide a long, racist joke. The incompetence and need for protection that was an endearing reversal for Bill Murray's character comes off making Bernie Mac's Bosley look like nothing more than the Angels' dumb Black butler. This is especially irritating given that you can see, in the film's flashbacks to Alex as the perfect Asian girl (complete with a cameo by Béla Károlyi as her gymnastics coach), the capacity for racial stereotypes as self-aware comedy. That self-awareness is completely lost when it comes to African-American Bosley (and his family, who are briefly featured in the film). This same lack of awareness comes up again in the minor minority characters, including the Mongolians at the beginning, and the ethnic (Italian, Irish, Japanese) "crime families" featured among the film's baddies.

Just as what could be self-aware parody of race falls flat and becomes just plain racism, what could be intelligent gender commentary falls flat to become just plain sexism. The film's major villain is former Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore). Several times, Madison implies that she is aware of the pathetic situation the Angels are in, and pissed off about it. "I don't take orders from a speaker-box anymore," she tells Natalie. "I work for myself." Natalie's response? "Well, your boss sucks." Rather than giving any kind of credibility to Madison's implication that it is better for a woman to determine her own course of action, rather than work for a man she's not even allowed to see, the Angels, and the film itself, paint her as a psychotic megalomaniac. And, as she is called by both Alex and Natalie, a bitch.

A running gag in the film in which Alex's father comes to town and gets the mistaken impression that she is a prostitute, working alongside Dylan and Natalie for a pimp named Charlie, underlines this lack of self-awareness about the sexism in the comedy. The joke goes on and on, but there is never an implication that the film's writers understand the validity of this analogy to what the Angels really do.

This is a pathetic, infuriating film. I literally mean it when I say that it sets us back 20 (or more like 30) years, as I am almost sure that the original 1970s television program off which these movies are based was more feminist.

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