Ladies Who Lunge

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Elle woods tends to think (shocking) pink when it comes to wardrobe, believes it's O.K. for men to moisturize and is totally cool when Bruiser, her beloved Chihuahua, turns out to be gay. So far, so culturally correct.

But as we know from the first Legally Blonde movie, there's something in her closet besides 200 pairs of shoes. In that case, it was a dream of self-realization: Harvard Law School and all that. In the upcoming sequel (subtitled Red White & Blonde), she's offering a much broader liberal and populist agenda to the "land of the free gift with purchase." Searching for the birth mum of the abandoned Bruiser, she discovers that Mrs. Bruiser is being used in experiments by a cosmetics conglomerate. Devoted though she is to lip gloss, this is too much for Elle. Off she goes to her nation's capital, a splash of riotous color in a sea of gloomy suits, to propagate "Bruiser's Bill," prohibiting vivisection in pursuit of improved toners and blushes.

Does Elle prevail? Why ask? We're talking fables, not reality, here, and this is a fine and merry one - "Ms. Woods Goes to Washington" - played to airy perfection by Reese Witherspoon and a light-on-its-feet cast. But the subject is not just airhead empowerment. Doubtless accidentally (we would almost rather endure another bad-hair day than bring this up), Legally Blonde 2 also empowers that widely ignored factor in politics, our fundamental good nature. That is to say, it allows the constituency among us that favors meaningful gun control and environmental protection (and darkly suspects that Paul Wolfowitz is Dr. Strangelove's nephew) to win one for a change. Not bad for a trim little comedy that's just out for a good time - and delivers one.

In the meantime, Charlie's Angels Full Throttle offers a much more primitive form of female empowerment: pretty women kicking butt. It requires three to deliver what Witherspoon gives us in one perky package. Cameron Diaz does ditsy perpetual adolescence; Lucy Liu plays a sober, focused grownup; and Drew Barrymore, as befits one of the film's producers, has a backstory: once she was lost to addiction and male exploitation; now she's found both inner strength and martial artistry. All right, all right, you can't quite imagine Elle Woods ever being addicted to anything but high-end shopping, but you get the idea.

Don't try to track Angels' plot, though. It has something to do with two titanium rings encoded with the names and addresses of people in the witness-protection program that all kinds of organized-crime figures want. But really this movie is a tribute to bikini waxing, an excuse to get the Angels (and their nemesis, the shockingly lissome Demi Moore) as near naked as the rating administrators will permit and set them into erotically charged sadomasochistic motion. This will please the young-male audience. The fact that such good guys as the movie presents are hunky, passive wusses will please their dates. So will the fact that the bad guys - who are legion and perpetually sneering - manifestly deserve to be beaten senseless in variously artful ways.

And the rest of us? Well, after The Matrix Reloaded and The Hulk, there's something refreshing about this movie's complete lack of intellectual pretense. No Freudian issues are explored. No reference is made to any philosophical systems, fashionable or not. Angels' director, McG, is one of those pop-culture polymaths, up out of music videos, who can refer to anything, from Dirty Harry to A Star Is Born, with casual aptness. And he knows how to refresh action-movie clich•s without undue strain. Give this guy a script to direct instead of a structure to fill in, and he could get really good. Meantime, if you switch all critical faculties to the off position, you might have a nice night with Angels. Whether you'll respect it the next morning is another matter.