The oft-derided sequel is better than I remember

The early 2000s occupy a unique space in the annals of action cinema. The influence of The Matrix permeated the market, Hong Kong martial arts were experiencing a massive upswell with the global crossover success of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, and advancements in CGI gave filmmakers confidence that anything they dreamed up could be put on the screen.

At the helm of 2000’s Charlie’s Angels, at the behest of Drew Barrymore, was pop music producer and video director Joseph McGinty Nichol, stylized as “McG”. His extremely flashy style, love of music, and larger-than-life approach was a terrific match for the girl-powered Charlie’s Angels, which starred Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Bill Murray. The sexy action-comedy was a huge hit, successfully accomplishing the difficult task of reviving an older entertainment IP for a new audience that wasn’t necessarily familiar with the original (in the case of Angels, a TV series that ran from 1976–1981).

The sequel Full Throttle followed in 2003 with the same director and most of the key cast intact (an absent Murray was replaced with Bernie Mac). The film did alright financially, but wasn’t met with the same critical or popular appreciation.

Was is it a lesser movie or had audiences simply moved on? Personally I recall having this very reaction myself. I greatly enjoyed the first film and watched it several times, but never revisited the sequel after a single viewing. So with Full Throttle finally making the jump to Blu-ray, I decided to rewatch both films with fresh eyes.

Full Throttle goes way over the top, amplifying everything — which is both good and bad. In the opening scene, the angels perform a wild rescue (of Robert Patrick!) which involves some sexy mechanical bull-riding as a diversion, and culminates in driving off the edge of a tall dam, in a truck carrying a helicopter, climbing into said helicopter while free-falling, starting it midair, and taking flight at the last second before crashing. It’s utterly ludicrous and even looks pretty bad. Immediately, Full Throttle demonstrates in microcosm how pretty much the entire film will continue to play out: huge, explosive, clunky, and still admittedly pretty fun with a star-studded supporting cast.

Throughout the movie, that cast includes supporting turns or cameos from Bruce Willis, Robert Forster, John Cleese, Tommy Flanagan, Shia LeBeouf, Carrie Fisher, Rodrigo Santoro, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, fight choreographer Yuen Cheung-yan, and original Angel Jaclyn Smith — in addition to returners Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc, Crispin Glover, Melissa McCarthy, and John Forsythe as Charlie. I forgot how amazingly stacked this cast is, especially with respect to some of my favorite character actors. (And that’s not including a cavalcade of pop musicians and cultural figures regularly popping in).

The plot has the Angels chasing down a stolen encrypted database full of the identities and locations of all participants in the entire federal witness protection program, and for once the MacGuffin actually has some personal stake as we learn that Dylan (Barrymore) is one of them. That comes to the forefront when her homicidal ex-boyfriend (Justin Theroux) comes back for revenge against her for sending him to prison, and he’s somehow connected with fallen former Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore).

The film’s biggest flaw is its mess of plots and subplots, including an absurd and largely unexplained return of Crispin Glover’s “creepy Thin Man” character, who was a villain in the prior film but resurfaces as a potential ally and… love interest? This bizarre component even takes time to dive into Thin Man’s “origin story”, yet completely fails to qualify why any of this matters, mainly because his motivation is indecipherable (the enigma of the Thin Man is left largely and unsatisfyingly unanswered).

I’m not saying that beloved screenwriter Ed Solomon (Bill & Ted, Men in Black) is the key missing ingredient, but he co-wrote the first script and is absent from the disastrous second one, so… that certainly seems possible.

But despite the nonsensical plotting woes, clunky CG effects, and general cheesiness, this is still an entertaining ride. I enjoyed this a lot more on the rewatch, for a number of reasons — the great supporting cast, a bit of nostalgia (especially for Bernie Mac and Robert Forster, who are no longer with us), and perhaps mostly because that I knew what I was in for — a cheesy and nonsensical thrill ride with some genuine laughs.

The Angels still have amazing chemistry together, Bernie Mac is immensely charming as the “new” Bosley, and both Demi Moore and Justin Theroux are terrifically sexy villains (though I only watched the film once, I completely acknowledge that Theroux’s hairstyle was an immediate and lasting influence on me).

I also appreciate that nice guy boyfriends Matt LeBlanc and Luke Wilson are back, with LeBlanc playing an only thinly-veiled version of his beloved Joey character from Friends. Sequels tend to try to keep things fresh by jettisoning these kinds of peripheral characters, so actually giving the Angels committed relationships instead of chasing new romances is an appreciated touch.

The action is absurd but entertaining, and the aptly named “Full Throttle” approach which was so eye-rollingly XTREME at the time feels a little more acceptable now as a throwback to the wacky style of the early 2000s. I also reviewed the film again with McG’s enhanced “telestrator” commentary mode, and it was a really enlightening experience: he fills every moment with the filmmaker perspective of what’s transpiring on the screen and how it was accomplished — or in some cases, not accomplished. He’s very straightforward about the film’s challenges, what works and doesn’t, and acknowledging and responding to criticisms. I was impressed with a lot of his ideas and also at the surprising amount of practical effects mixed in with all the noisy CGI. And while not a lot of the film doesn’t quite work, it’s clear that it was not just a commercial sequel effort but made with a lot of passion.

The Package

It’s taken a surprisingly long time, but Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle has finally arrived on Blu-ray — nearly a decade after the first film made the jump. The release comes alongside the 4K release of the first film, both in anticipation of the upcoming 2019 revival which promises to be an in-continuity reboot of the existing Angels lore (as Full Throttle establishes, Charlie’s team is an ongoing continuation of the same organization as the original TV series).

Full Throttle arrives with a nice glossy slipcover and Movies Anywhere digital copy. The features are ported from the prior DVD release, with the addition of HD trailers and a preview of the upcoming 2019 film. Though not much new has been added, the original DVD came from the golden era of special features — there’s a lot of content here.

While the dated/poorly composited CGI in particular doesn’t hold up to HD viewing, the film as a whole is very kinetic, detailed, and stylized, and greatly benefits from the Blu-ray presentation.

Special Features and Extras

  • ALL-NEW: Sneak peek at the new 2019 Charlie’s Angels film with an extended clip from the film
  • Telestrator Commentary with Director McG
    My favorite feature — the “Telestrator” aspect refers to the fact that he draws on the screen throughout his commentary to circle or highlight things as he discusses them. It’s tasteful and not overused. (The visual aspect of the doodling is pixelly, I imagine the original version was likely implemented as a DVD subtitle track).
  • Writer’s Commentary
  • Angel-Vision Trivia Track
  • Angels Film School 101 (11:47) — 8-part Making Of featuring interviews with: First AD Mark Cotone, Script Supervisor Tricia Ronten, Storyboard Artist Adolfo Martinez-Perez, SVP Creative Advertising Christine Birch, SFX Supervisor Matt Sweeney, VFX Supervisor Mark Stetson, Driver Tony Petalta, and Stunt Doubles Alisa Hensley and Heidi Moneymaker
  • Full Throttle: The Cars of Charlie’s Angels (17:51)
  • Dream Duds: Costuming an Angel (4:11)
  • Angels Makeover: Hansen Dam (4:06)
  • Designing Angels: The Look of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (7:26)
  • Learn Why: There’s No Such Thing As a “Short Shot”, Only an Overworked Producer (8:51)
  • Music Video: Pink Featuring William Orbit “Feel Good Time” (4:17)
  • Cameo-Graphy (3:37) — character profiles covering some of the film’s many cameos
  • Turning Angels into Pussycat Dolls (4:55)
  • Rolling with the Punches (6:07)
  • XXX-Treme Angels (9:05)
  • Full Throttle Jukebox (3:54) — an anaalysis of the film’s soundtrack that makes good use of McG’s expertise as a music video director/producer
  • Angel Scouts: A Look Into the Gorgeous Locations (6:49)
  • Teaser (2:00) and Theatrical Trailer (2:26)

A/V Out.

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Buy Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) on Blu-ray

Buy Charlie’s Angels (2000) on 4K Blu-ray

Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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