"What do you mean, one
of us has to marry Lee Majors?"
Someone call Hollywood. They might as well stop making movies, because they will never again make a movie as great as Charlie's Angels.
Updating old TV shows is a risky business. Sometimes Hollywood just carries on with the old continuity, like Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other times they take the original concept and turn it into camp, like the Brady Bunch movies. Charlie's Angels takes an approach somewhere between these two, walking a fine line between a parody of the original material and a spy thriller of the highest order (and to hell with the laws of physics). This bunch of women could be just another group of chicks assembled by the mysterious Charlie (still a voice on the speaker phone, still played by John Forsythe). But where the original series was an utterly forgettable "detective" show about three women who seemed to go undercover at a bikini factory every week, this new big budget version of Charlie's Angels re-imagines the show as a James Bond film, if James Bond were to grow breasts and go undercover at a bikini factory.
"Don't call me McFly!"
The new Angels are a more varied lot than was ever seen on the show. Natalie (Cameron Diaz) is a skilled driver and Jeopardy champion. Alex (Lucy Liu) is a former astronaut (!). And Dylan (Drew Barrymore) is former bad girl who got kicked out of the police academy. Their link to Charlie is the new Bosley, played to bumbling perfection by Bill Murray.
After a Bondian pre-credit action sequence, the Angels are contracted to find a software mogul, Knox (Sam Rockwell), who has been kidnapped. According to Knox's assistant Vivian (Kelly Lynch), the prime suspect is a rival mogul named Corwyn (Tim Curry) who runs a satellite network from his company Red Star. Luckily, Corwyn is having a party, giving the Angels an excuse to dress up in slinky outfits and sneak in for a little recon. At the party they spot The Creepy Thin Man (Crispin Glover!), who was on the surveillance tape (in a computer-enhanced reflection, natch) of Knox's kidnapping. They chase him out into an alley, and an amazing kung fu fight breaks out....
So, is anyone else looking forward
to the new Spider-Man movie?
To summarize this movie any more would be pointless. There isn't really a plot here, but rather a series of excuses: excuses to have kung fu fights, excuses for the women to dress up in slinky outfits, excuses for the women to dress up in silly costumes, excuses for things to explode. It plays quite a bit like some of the more scattershot Hong Kong action comedies, which isn't a bad thing at all. Like many of the other movies-from-TV-shows, the story plays a bit with the conventions of the show, but fortunately the writers resisted the temptation to change the nature of those conventions. So no, Charlie does not turn out to be the villain. (What the heck was that in Mission: Impossible, anyways? Does Tom Cruise just hate Peter Graves for some reason?)
If only we had a nickel for every
fantasy that started like this.
Drew Barrymore, in her role as producer, hand picked the Angels, and we can't find anything wrong with her choices. We are, like most of the male species, huge fans of Drew Barrymore. We would watch her in any movie, and the fact that we've seen her in both Ever After and Home Fries pretty much proves the point. Cameron Diaz is back to playing a ditz, but a very smart ditz. We think. We got distracted by that scene where she was dancing around wearing nothing but an undersized T-shirt and Spider-Man underwear. Lucy Liu plays a somewhat perkier and better-adjusted character than those in which we usually find her, and that may explain why she makes less of an impression than she has in other roles. Even so, all three Angels feature a devastating combination of charm, good looks, and sex appeal.
"I wish Woody Allen would
stop eyeing me like that."
Speaking of sex appeal, does this movie turn the Angels into sex objects? Well, if the shot of Natalie bending over while wearing a white body suit is any indication, the answer is a big yes. But the women are also powerful in this movie. Unlike nearly any other action series you care to mention, even ones with female leads (The Avengers, The X-Files), the women here don't get tied up all the time, only to be rescued by the men. Dylan does get tied to a chair, but she uses her sex (almost literally) and martial arts to free herself. This is like James Bond in reverse. If James can make Pussy Galore turn against Goldfinger just by sleeping with her, why can't women do the same thing?
Barrymore also did a great job pulling together the supporting cast. Much has been made of the fact that Barrymore's former boyfriend (Luke Wilson) and current fiancé (Tom Green) are both in the film, but let's face it, if the former child star from E.T. had excluded people she had slept with from the cast, this film would have looked like Grumpy Old Men. Glover gets more exposure here than he has had in a long time as a mute, kung fu savvy assassin. Matthew LeBlanc makes the most of his small role as an actor who lives with Alex. He's playing an actor; even he couldn't mess that up. Tim Curry actually manages not to wear out his welcome. Sam Rockwell does an amusing transformation into Kevin Bacon as the movie progresses.
Caption? You want a caption?
This film has alternately been given the nod and savaged by critics. As unbelievable as this may sound, some of the negative reviews have come from men! Roger Ebert dismissed it as "a dead zone"; his TV partner Roeper called it "a bomb." We can only assume that this means they are functionally dead from the neck up. And from the waist down. When a couple of pasty white male upper torsos are reviewing a movie, you just know they can't have anything interesting to say.
Trust us instead when we say that Charlie's Angels is finally delivering on the failed promises of so many summer blockbusters (and for a fall release, that's an accomplishment). As an action film, you can't ask for much more than three bad ass kung fu fightin' chicks. (Heroic Trio, anyone?) Sure, the fight sequences (directed by Yuen Cheung-Yan, brother of legendary Yuen Woo-Ping) could have been handled a little better in the editing room, but Hollywood is still learning lessons from Hong Kong in that department. The three-on-one fight following Crispin Glover's first appearance is exhilarating. Who knew this guy could move like that? Other than David Letterman, of course.
"Take that, Rosebud!"
The film's comic elements can be a tad heavy-handed and the humor is almost always low, but at least it's low humor done well. Ordinarily putting Bill Murray and Tim Curry in the same movie is a recipe for overacted disaster, but each actor is given just enough screen time to do some hit-and-run comic damage and no more. Someone was actually paying attention on set and during the editing process! The fact that Tom Green got in on the action (this guy sleeps with Drew Barrymore?) and disaster was still averted is nothing short of miraculous.
There is another miraculous appearance in this movie, by the Big G himself, at least indirectly. The bad guys' island hideout is announced with a "Simon Says" by Pharoh Monch, a hip-hop song that samples Ifukube's music from Godzilla vs. Mothra. (Probably from the 1992 film with that name, but it's a little tough to tell. Ifukube recycled his themes a lot.) This movie probably wasn't tailor-made to appeal directly to us as individuals, but at that moment it sure felt like it had been.
You're probably getting the idea that we could go on and on about Charlie's Angels. You're right. It isn't often that Hollywood surprises us so pleasantly (the last time was Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon, a film which has much in common with this one), but when a movie -- and a highly marketed "event" movie at that -- is as resoundingly enjoyable as this, it's tough to shut us up.