Winging It 

Charlie's Angels: entertainment at its barest.

Good morning, angels. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Wear the skimpiest outfits possible within the letter of the law (but outside the realm of good taste or practicality) and behave so garishly bubble-headed that you lull your foolish male adversaries into blissful, appreciative oblivion. I will send a jive-talking supervisor from South-Central L.A. named Bosley to bumble alongside you. He may be unnecessary, since you three are indestructible, but his antics and remarks may amuse you as you proceed with your plans. In the meantime, leave no strip club, surfer beach, or do-it-yourself erotic carwash unturned with equal parts jiggle and wiggle. Good luck, angels.

This is the plot to Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Oh, and there's a subplot about the identities of all witness-relocation program participants being threatened. Some of the film is spent on that.

Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore are back as Alex, Natalie, and Dylan, respectively. We open in Mongolia, in a scene that seemingly pays homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark: Dylan is in the middle of proving her masculine side in a drinking game against a man known in the credits only as "Demented Mongol." Other demented Mongols cheer on as, elsewhere in the hut, angels Natalie and Alex work feverishly to free the captured Ray Carter (Robert Patrick), guardian of an encoded titanium ring that contains half of the key to all those witness relocation identities. Well, chaos soon ensues, and you can't distract demented Mongols forever even with a scantily clad, Scandinavian-themed Cameron Diaz riding a mechanical bull. Within several seconds, the angels escape with Carter, drive off in a nearby freight truck, and are driven off the road to plummet toward certain doom. But wait! There are no laws of physics! Good thing, because that truck was carrying a helicopter, and Natalie manages to fall into it, start it, and fly away from imminent death, complete with accompanying angels. Whew! Every scene in the film is like this, because Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle is little more than a string of fleshy, exploitative, nonsensical action sequences tied loosely by the need to recover those two rings that protect all those nice people who ratted other people out and had to get new names and stuff.

A complication (lest these proceedings be accused of simplicity): A rogue ex-angel is behind the theft of the rings and the impending auction involving mafias from Italy, Japan, Ireland, and many, many more! This fallen angel is Madison Lee (Demi Moore), who boasts a Nobel Prize and a hot, hot bod. After years of being part of a team she didn't quite believe in, she's now out only for herself.

This movie is utter crap. I said that about From Justin to Kelly last week; I meant it then and I mean it now. The difference is that this is extremely well-budgeted, slickly produced, amusing, fun crap. There is no intelligence in the script, aside from some clever one-liners and an impressive navigation through a mostly plotless series of excuses for clothing removal and improbable action sequences. But there is such a contagious spirit of fast-paced, high-energy, to-the-extreme dumb fun that it is much easier to check one's brain at the door here than at, say, From Justin or the like, which pretends to be about actual people or relationships while dispensing its fluffy, mindless nothingness. What with the world and our country in the state of overwhelming, ungodly mess that it's in, who needs that? Charlie's Angels has the grace at least to feature no real emotions of any sort. The girls here are more like blow-up dolls than real females meant to please men and draw laughter from women.

Much has been written lately about whether this movie exploits or empowers women with its brilliant but ditsy, flesh-peddling heroines. Much has been published in the tabloids about Demi Moore's return to film with this movie (not to mention her fling with toy-boy Ashton Kutcher) after her seven years of self-imposed retirement. Moore has been entirely refitted, with what appears to be enough plastic surgery, personal training, and cosmetic retouching to put the Sistine Chapel to shame. I imagine her restoration to look something like the Statue of Liberty's historic preservation complete with scaffolding and tiny workers nipping and tucking, feverishly preparing her for public reconsumption. The verdict: She looks great. But who cares? She looked awesome before. For Christ's sake she's 40. What a shame that she's getting all this publicity for, basically, sending the message that it's not okay to be merely spectacular at 40. You have to be perfect. If there's a bad message here, it's that. Bo List

Director Aki KaurismÑki has referred to his The Man Without a Past the only Finnish product ever to be nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar as "a dream of lonely hearts with empty pockets," and the film is both as lovely and as borderline maudlin as the sentiment.

This deadpan comic vision of prole solidarity is one of the most subtly handsome films of the year, its color cinematography reminiscent of the best of '50s Hollywood and its lush movie-music score further adding a classical feel.

The film opens with a man on a train, a protagonist (Marrku Peltola) whose name we never discover. The man clutches a suitcase and seems to be fleeing from something. He disembarks in Helsinki, wanders to a park, and falls asleep on a bench, where he is attacked, robbed, and beaten to a pulp by a street gang. After being taken to a hospital, the man is pronounced dead. After the doctor and nurse leave the room, he miraculously rises and wanders out of the hospital, eventually passing out on a rocky beach, where he is discovered by two young boys who live in a sort of squatters' commune, a community of poor people who "rent" out empty freight containers.

The man awakens an amnesiac, and this community of "losers" bums, drifters, and alcoholics, rag-tag kids and a sad blonde embraces him as one of their own, helping him set up a new life. He rents an empty container from the security guard who polices the compound and finds food and clothing at a nearby Salvation Army, where Irma (Kati Outinen), the soup-kitchen proprietress, develops into a romantic interest.

Though the man's inability to remember his name hinders his pursuit of work, prevents him from opening a bank account, and complicates his dealings with the police, he nevertheless settles into the community, planting potatoes in the small dirt yard outside his container, and striking up a chaste romance with Irma the aforementioned sad blonde, who goes to sleep each night with Finnish rockabilly on the radio. KaurismÑki's love for American roots music plays a small but crucial role in the film: The unnamed man somehow finds an old jukebox to put in his container, which, after repaired, plays Blind Lemon Jefferson. He later convinces a local band, which plays traditional Finnish songs, to incorporate "rhythm music" into their repertoire, musing that perhaps he'll become a rock-and-roll promoter.

KaurismÑki is perhaps best known in the U.S., if at all, for his 1989 cult hit Leningrad Cowboys Go America, about a group of Finnish rock-and-rollers on their first U.S. tour. The Man Without a Past is considerably less broad than I remember that film being, finding its considerable humor instead in a stoic response to the existential absurdity of life. It's a quirky, moving, gentle film, full of understated laughs and genuine pathos, but the ultimate mood it arrives at and earns is pretty rare in movies these days: contentment. n Chris Herrington



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