Plot of the new sequel Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle released last Friday? Not close. It's the elevator pitch for Aeschylus' 458 B.C. play Eumenides. The crimefighters here are the Furies, and the man protecting his homie is Apollo. While the premise of Charlie's Angels, as envisioned for the metroplex by director McG, seems freshly picked, the idea of three women together getting the job done is as old as the trusty Grecian trio formula (including the three Fates, the three Graces and our full-throttle justifiers, the three Furies). Since ancient times, a female triad hosts an unmatchable power that's been annoying to men. As Apollo said of the Furies in Eumenides, "No god there is to tend such herd as you." It may be my own weird theory, but this fear of threes seems to be why a lot of guys can't stand the Charlie's Angels franchise.
Menfolk made fun of the Charlie's Angels TV series, but they still bought the Farrah poster. The real fans weren't the working women of the day, toward whom the show was probably geared, but, unexpectedly, the girls of the time period. CA captivated girls born into the 1970s feminist uprising who had no problem aspiring to be hot, sarcastic women wielding guns. Was the National Organization for Women hoping girls would throw out their oppressive Barbies to play make-believe as quick-change artists wearing tight shirts, outfoxing bad guys and supporting each other? Who cares! It happened. And it was glorious.
Men's reaction to the franchise when it switched to film in 2000 was more pronounced. Guys I knew who loved action films couldn't stand it, while every woman I knew saw it multiple times. Roger Ebert called it "eye candy for the blind," while Cindy Fuchs began her review in Philadelphia City Paper with the line, "You haven't lived until you've seen Drew Barrymore moonwalking to 'Billie Jean.'" It's likely that this battle of the sexes won't relent for Full Throttle.
But why? It all comes back to the number three. In both films, the action lives up to Matrix/Crouching Tiger-era expectations, and the F/X are macho-quality. Sure, the lo-fi humor that makes women howl abounds--the Angels doing the Hammer Time dance, Lucy Liu as a dominatrix business consultant, Cameron Diaz and that, uh, underwear. In these moments, women recognize themselves and latch on, while men pass it off as silly and push it away. But it's the theme of the Angels as best friends, a group of three, that had guys fleeing the theater during the first film and will probably do the same with the sequel. As one male colleague put it, "To women, secrets are meant to be shared," and nothing pushed that idea more than these films, with the three luscious ladies dishing on boyfriends behind their backs and giving each other the knowing looks that pass for mental telepathy among lady friends. It seems that the power of three that our progenitors, the Greeks, found so useful in their drama still pushes buttons.
Let's tear it apart. When there's one female character--like the loved-by-all-genders Sydney Bristow in Alias--women can make her a friend, while men can turn her into a lover. With two lady characters, we're in dicey territory on both sides--think Laverne and Shirley, Thelma and Louise, Cagney and Lacey. Are they lesbians? Do they even need another friend? Will they both do me? These questions can provide enticing tension for any viewer. But a group of three proves problematic for men. Three equals the group of girls who teased you in middle school. Three is your wife and her friends, who stop talking when you walk in the room. Three is the unholy trinity of grandmother, mother and sister. Three means you're overpowered. Which makes the premise for the CA sequel so interesting. This time, the Angels don't just face the bad guys, they face a bad girl--a former employee of Charlie played by Demi Moore.
Good girls plus bad girl means one thing--cat fight. And how. They're good brawls, too, and many guys will like them. But to maintain the heart of this franchise, some things must remain the same. Even though there's a bad seed (there's still a bad boyfriend, too), it's made abundantly clear why she's gone wrong--she's abandoned her sisters. We find out that Moore's character, Madison Lee, left the agency because she didn't like working with other women. Lee uses guns (go Freudian here) while the Angels eschew them. And in one particular climactic fight scene between Moore's fallen Angel and Diaz--which has more than a passing resemblance to the part in Aliens when Sigourney Weaver gets in the monster's face and screams, "Stay away from her, you bitch!"--Moore presses against Diaz's cheek and licks. The denouement unfolds. Diaz to Moore: "I have something that you'll never have." Moore: "What's that?" Diaz: "Friends."
Friends: more powerful than TNT--especially when there's T&A. I'll be seeing Full Throttle again--at least three times.
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
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