The guns are gone, but the jiggle remains.
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Charlie’s Angels, the big-budget, big-action, big-screen homage to the campy 1970s TV series, knows when to wink at itself and when to deliver the thrill-per-frame goods. As the new millennium Angels, Drew Barrymore (who also co-produced), Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu give those male stuntmeisters James Bond and Jackie Chan a serious kick in the teeth. In fact, Charlie’s Angels is so much fun to watch, it’s a shame it didn’t arrive in theaters five months earlier. Tom Cruise would have had even more bullets to sweat as he scaled the impossible mission of his summer movie.
Hollywood men, take note: these kung fu-chopping, butt-kicking, double-entendre-ing, hair-tossing girls are a serious threat to your testosterone-ruled box office.
It’s just too bad there’s not a decent story to match the movie’s action scenes.
Not that Charlie’s Angels was ever known for groundbreaking, original plots.
When the series debuted in September 1976, it was all about looking good while packing heat (the TV Angels used guns, but the movie Angels shun them in favor of martial arts—due to Barrymore’s anti-gun views). Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett-Majors (as she was known back then) were the antithesis of the rumpled, cross-eyed Columbo. These were girls who could bust an assassin while, simultaneously, busting their bikinis.
With all their blow-dried style, I’m sure they catered to female viewers, but lemme tell you, if you were a male over 12 years old and your libido was a healthy one, then there were six reasons you tuned in week after week, and those six reasons all belonged to Farrah, Jaclyn and Kate.
[Full Confession Time: I was 13 years old in 1976, my libido was just starting to bloom and, yes, I owned the Farrah poster. You know the one I’m talking about: that reddish-orange swimsuit, that cocked leg, that fantabulous mane of hair, that Pepsodent smile. Oh yes indeedy!]
The stories were typical plot-by-the-numbers, wrap-it-all-up-in-60-minutes detective work. There were episodes with titles like “Pretty Angels All in a Row,” “Angels in Chains” and the ghastly “Love Boat Angels” (by that time, only Jaclyn remained, teamed with replacement angels Tanya Roberts and Shelly Hack [ack!]). Here’s a typical summary (courtesy of the Screen Gems’ official Charlie’s Angels website) for “Angels on Ice.” The mysterious disappearance of two ice show stars six days before opening night challenges the Angels to find out why they are missing. When Kelly's belly dancer disguise fails, she joins the list of missing persons and discovers the kidnappers are part of a larger political assassination attempt. Mid-Eastern diplomats in the ice show audience are unwitting targets as the Angels race against time to uncover the murder plan and save Arab dignitaries.
See what I mean? The hair wasn’t the only thing that was fluffed.
Things aren’t much better in Charlie’s Angels, the movie. There’s something about the kidnapping of a Bill Gatesian tycoon (Sam Rockwell) and along with him the key to some voice-identification software. If the Angels don’t find him, then the bad guys will be able to hack into the global computer database and, naturally, threaten world peace—not to mention the world’s supply of halter tops, bell-bottom jeans and shampoo (oops, sorry…wrong decade). The Angels—here renamed Natalie, Dylan and Alex—are guided through their gumshoe paces by their never-seen boss Charlie Townsend (John Forsythe, still giving a marvelous speakerphone performance) and the male secretary Bosley (Bill Murray taking over for the late frog-faced David Doyle).
I saw right through the light-as-airhead plot in the first 20 minutes and figured out exactly where it was going. If you’ve seen any detective TV from 25 years ago (Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Hart to Hart, you name it), you’ll be able to collar the criminal long before Natalie, Dylan or Alex.
But in a movie like this, the plot is beside the point (unfortunately). No, Charlie’s Angels is all about visual and aural candy—the bop ’em, sock ’em style that fuels films like The Matrix and the recent James Bond films. Charlie’s Angels is directed by McG (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol), who comes to us direct from music videos for Offspring, Sugar Ray and Barenaked Ladies. Starting with a white-knuckled leap from an airplane, it’s all flash-and-thrash and, boy, is it fun to watch.
Charlie’s Angels is smart enough to reference its roots (split screen cinematography, a disco-era soundtrack, jumpsuits unzipped to the navel), but it’s never quite clever enough to be more than a caricature. If only it had a script that didn’t depend on slow-motion hair-tossing for laughs, then Charlie’s Angels could have really been something heavenly.
As proof of the movie’s lack of potential, Bill Murray hangs around the Angels’ necks like a lead weight. He’s one of the cleverest comedians of the past 20 years, but you’d never know it from this film. He sleepwalks through a role that could have been side-splitting. The same goes for the other supporting actors: Tim Curry, Crispin Glover and Kelly Lynch (looking for all the world like Stefanie Powers from Hart to Hart).
Of course, maybe the point is that we’re not supposed to pay attention to the little people in the movie. How could they possibly compete against the mega-watt performances of Diaz, Barrymore and Liu. Make no mistake, these new Angels are terrific. Forget all the rumors of off-camera catfights—this trio has plenty of chemistry. It’s an energy that spills off the screen and into your laps as the oft-ditzy gals display a dizzying array of martial arts, skydiving, back-alley sprints and other bone-crunching stunts. Of the three, Liu comes off with the most appeal (or maybe it’s because she fills the brainy Kate Jackson slot). Even in the midst of her rapid-fire gymnastics, she looks smart.
Which is more than I can say for the empty-headed script.
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