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Angels spread their wings

Less of a surprise but still a thrill ride, 'Full Throttle' never applies the brakes

A grand piece of candy-colored entertainment, director McG's first 'Charlie's Angels' movie was an underrated surprise Ñ clever, campy and filled with wire-fu fight scenes to equal those in 'The Matrix.' Now the inevitable sequel, 'Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle,' has arrived and, while there's plenty of fun to be had, it suffers under the weight of its own ambitions.

True to its title, all the good-natured, gentle absurdity of the first film is driven hard and loud in 'Full Throttle,' with the music more insistent, the costumes more revealing and the action scenes wilder. There's a hysterical intensity to the film that's oddly enthralling, but the adrenaline-fueled pace is disjointed and exhausting.

The James Bond-ish opening rescue of a captured U.S. marshal (a scene that includes one Angel riding a mechanical bull in a Mongolian bar, another engaged in a drinking contest a la 'Indiana Jones' and all three Angels driving a truck off the side of a dam) connects us to this episode's adventure: The Angels must track down a pair of titanium rings that contain the entire database for the Witness Protection Program.

The plot's merely a device to propel the Angels from one preposterous situation to another, of course. Some are silly, such as the improbably slick dance number at a dockside strip club.

Others are more successful, such as the girls' impersonation of crime scene investigators as they tangle with a borderline incompetent cop (played by one of several recognizable stars who drop in for cameos).

In the best set piece, the Angels enter an off-road motorcycle race in which Ñ as pop icon Pink intones, in her role as race promoter Ñ 'the only rules are, there are no rules.' It's a rip-roaring segment with bikers flying through the air, kicking each other into concrete walls and somehow managing to ride airborne, upside-down, while shooting pistols. It's absolutely ridiculous, yet exhilarating and funny as hell.

Joining the three stars (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, in case you live in a cave) is Demi Moore as ex-Angel-gone-bad Madison Lee. Usually this reviewer would be loath to give away such an obvious spoiler as 'gone bad' to describe the character, as it's not actually revealed that she's the villain until a good three-quarters of the way through the movie. But since every television ad and trailer's made it patently obvious that Moore is the baddie, why bother with spoiler warnings? (Thanks, Sony Pictures, for giving away the surprise!)

Moore's much-ballyhooed return to the screen is marked by her appearance in a bikini, which isn't as impressive as it is frightening. A testament to the miracle of high-end plastic surgery, Moore is teetering on the verge of becoming as monstrously unreal as Pamela Anderson or Cher; a brief shot of her running in slow motion toward the camera, enhanced breasts bobbling in a bikini top, is positively chilling.

The film's finest moments belong to Crispin Glover, returning as the bizarre Thin Man, and to Bernie Mac as the new Bosley (which is explained É sort of) with a load of cameos and sly film references to break up the bad jokes. And, yes, lots of gloriously ridiculous wire-fu, courtesy of fight choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen.

There are worse ways you can spend an afternoon matinee than with the Angels Ñ 'Full Throttle' has great music, sexy clothes and even more action. Just don't expect to be surprised this time.