CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE
Everything I loathed about the original Charlie's Angels movie - the Matrix-as-shampoo-commercial direction of McG, the beyond-senseless plotting, the "Are we hot or what? " imperiousness of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu - is back in spades in the franchise's sequel Full Throttle, but this time, it worked for me.
Let me amend that: It really worked for me. For a brainless, enjoyable summertime action comedy, I'm not sure that you'll do much better than Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle; I sat in the theatre for 105 minutes with a dopey grin on my face and left feeling recharged and giddy. How the hell did that happen?
My guess is that the huge financial success of the first film energized everyone involved, because this new work is absolutely fearless about its rampant stupidity. In the 2000 original, an air of uncertainty lingers over nearly every scene, an "Are we pulling this off?" quality that made everyone onscreen look uncomfortable. The film didn't seem to know if it was a traditional action comedy or a parody of them, and so the tone always felt confused; you watched the leads giggling and kicking ass, and not only did you not buy a moment of it, but you didn't know if you were supposed to. Yet the movie was a big hit nonetheless, and so Full Throttle arrives with a burst of pure confidence; no one, from the actors to director McG, seems to be faking their good time anymore.
The result is a joyously ridiculous spectacle. It has its share of headache-inducing qualities - the thunderous score and sound effects being the most egregious examples - but it's brisk and lively and features a to-die-for cast. The three leading ladies are buoyant, inventive comediennes here (Lucy Liu is particularly radiant), the villainous roles are enacted by a very funny/scary Justin Theroux, a very weird Crispin Glover, and an impossibly fit-looking Demi Moore, and a short list of those making appearances includes Luke Wilson, Robert Patrick, Matt LeBlanc (who has, happily, been allowed to Joey Tribbiani-ize his role as Liu's beau), John Cleese, Bruce Willis, Shia LaBeouf, Carrie Fisher, Eric Bogosian, Robert Forster, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen (!), and even original Angel Jaclyn Smith. (Sadly, the one disappointment in the cast is Bernie Mac, taking over Bill Murray's Bosley role, who isn't nearly as funny as you'd expect.) Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle might not be anything you'll remember an hour after seeing it - and don't even hope to remember the plot - but it handily improves on the original, and practically defines Summer Blockbuster entertainment. Go and have a great time - the pangs of guilt you'll feel at enjoying something so profoundly inane will eventually subside.
28 DAYS LATER
For guilt-free thrills, on the other hand, Danny Boyle's ghoulish horror drama 28 Days Later will fit the bill nicely. After a deadly virus wipes out the majority of the English populus, a ragtag group of survivors attempts to reach a safety zone outside Manchester, unaware that the military personnel there are only slightly less dangerous than the flesh-eating "infected" eager to gobble their entrails. Yup, it's an art-house zombie movie. It's also moody, creepy, and completely involving, and brings Trainspotting director Boyle back to the forefront of young directors after the debacles of A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach. 28 Days Later is actually an amalgam of several genre staples - the zombie flick, the infectious-disease flick, the post-apocalyptic flick, the military-gone-mad flick - yet Boyle, working from an impressive script by Alex Garland, makes these disparate works fuse together in a surprisingly coherent and intelligent fashion; it's a thinking-person's horror movie, yet it contains all the visceral excitement and pungency of anything George Romero or Tobe Hooper ever delivered.
Knowledge of the film's many precursors, especially The Stand and Night of the Living Dead, will probably aid your appreciation of 28 Days Later, but the uninitiated won't be left out of the fun. The zombie attacks are terrifyingly quick and brutal - and are made more unnerving by our inability to see them clearly - and the performers, especially Naomie Harris, invest their cardboard characters with just enough charm and humanity to give what happens to them real weight; astonishingly for a modern horror movie, we actually care about their fates. Marvelously shot, by Anthony Dod Mantle, on digital video, which gives the film an added, edgy verité quality, 28 Days Later is a frightening, smart, and - in this age of SARS - eerily timely genre work, a return to form for Danny Boyle and a blessed relief from our traditional menu of Hollywood overkill.
FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY
Anyone hoping that From Justin to Kelly would enter the annals of musical camp classics - right alongside such legendary works as Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu - will be sorely disappointed, not because the movie isn't terrible, but because it's just not terrible enough. From the moment the project was announced, we connoisseurs of cinematic crap began drooling in anticipation; the film was to be a modern-day, Frankie-and-Annette-meets-Grease beach-party musical, starring those uber-perky American Idol fixtures Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini as a pair of spring-break lovebirds (oh yeah, I bet Idol runner-up Guarini just loooves Clarkson) whose plans to hook up continually run afoul. Move over Glitter, we thought, here's our new Bad Movie for the Ages!
Yet with only a couple of exceptions - an aquatic competition that shamelessly rips off the T-Bird race in Grease comes to mind - there aren't any sequences in From Justin to Kelly with the misdirected energy to achieve true campiness; the movie is a wan and sluggish thing, too timid to be a good bad time. Over and over, there are moments that should be ripe for audience catcalls and derision, but they're constantly blown; we don't even get the fun of Kelly and Justin locking eyes for the first time ("Kelly-y-y-y ... I ju-u-ust met a gir-r-rl named Kelly-y-y-y ... ") or swooning over their first kiss. Without the camp quality, what we're left with is simply a bad movie, and where's the fun in that? It should come as no surprise that From Justin to Kelly is listlessly directed, embarrassingly edited, and inepty written, but considering the bright colors and beachfront setting, I didn't expect it to be photographed so atrociously. (In their mid-film romantic duet, Ms. Clarkson is framed and lit so badly that she resembles a chubby Count Chocula.) And I guess it goes without saying that the leads don't display anything in the way of engaging screen presence or romantic chemistry, but they're both so unformed and amateurish that you don't necessarily dislike them, either. They just make you feel sad. The whole movie does. For a true Camp Classic, I guess we'll just have to be patient and wait for From Ruben to Clay.