After nearly a two-decade long absence, the offices of Charles Townsend Private Investigations are once again open for business, with its staff of beauties ready to take on the baddies, dishing out triple helpings of both jiggle and justice. When "Charlie's Angels" first debuted in 1976, little did the network execs at ABC television realize that the trio of Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith would become irrevocably entwined in Seventies pop culture, alongside "Star Wars" and the disco movement. This crime-drama series of dubious merit was a bona fide hit for the network, and its widespread appeal afforded it a life span of five seasons. In that time, in addition to giving young girls (questionable) role models to look up to and young boys something to drool over, "Charlie's Angels" made household names out of Fawcett, Jackson, and Smith, and the young actresses who would follow in their footsteps, Cheryl Ladd, Shelly Hack, and Tanya Roberts. Though it has been years since Charles 'Charlie' Townsend wished his 'angels' a good morning, the chop-socky antics of these comely crime-fighters remain immortalized in countless re-runs on cable television and numerous fan web shrines.
With the advent of "Charlie's Angels" the movie, three new actresses 'strike a pose' on the big screen: Drew Barrymore (heard recently in "Titan A.E."), Cameron Diaz ("There's Something About Mary"), and Lucy Liu ("Shanghai Noon"). And though the new "Charlie's Angels" caters to the lowest common denominator and is rather uneven in execution, it doesn't wind up sinking to the level of some other recent TV-show-spawned movies, such as the enfant terrible "Mod Squad" or the absolutely unforgivable "Avengers". Instead, "Charlie's Angels" spins camp and overblown action set pieces to create an unabashedly fun (albeit empty-headed) romp on the level of the Hong Kong cult-classic "The Heroic Trio". Whether you liked the old TV show or not is a moot issue-- "Charlie's Angels" takes names and kicks *ss!
The flimsily-constructed plot starts off like any of the television episodes, with the disembodied voice of Charlie (voiced by John Forsythe, who also provided the voice for the series) giving a new assignment to his latest trio of Angels: airhead Natalie (Diaz), rough-and-tumble Dylan (Barrymore, who also acted as producer), and brainy Alex (Liu, in the role originally slated for Michelle Yeoh of "Tomorrow Never Dies"). Their client is Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch of "Drugstore Cowboy"), who is in need of help following the brutal kidnapping of her boss, the founder of Knox Electronics (Sam Rockwell of "Galaxy Quest"). It is believed that the man behind the diabolical scheme is Knox's chief competitor, Roger Corwin (Tim Curry of "Muppet Treasure Island"), who is eager to get his hands on Knox's ultra-secret cell phone technology.
With the privacy of all cell phone conversations in peril, the Angels leap into action, equipped with their trademark skills of detection and criminal investigation. These include dressing up in outrageous disguises, plenty of hair-flipping (in slo-mo, no less), showing off copious amounts of cleavage, and using their gravity-defying skills in martial arts-- these girls may not use guns, by they certainly have glam. Unfortunately, they have a number of obstacles to overcome in order to complete their mission, including a creepy mystery man (Crispin Glover, seen recently in "Nurse Betty") who manages to elude their every move.
Thankfully, "Charlie's Angels" doesn't take its source material very seriously, and so it winds up being a silly but watchable tongue-in-cheek parody of the old television show, much in the vein of "The Brady Bunch Movie". The script knows how ridiculous the premise of the original show was, and so the movie spins it off into the realm of pure escapist entertainment while playfully winking at the audience for recognizing it as such. Director McG, a former music video director who accidentally misplaced the rest of his name, injects plenty of visual gags and over-the-top production values to the proceedings, which are set to a soundtrack that will help ensure plenty of CD sales. "Charlie's Angels" doesn't say much, but it says it loud, with the intent of keeping the threadbare plot under the audience radar. In contrast, this past summer's action blockbuster "Mission: Impossible 2" was saddled with an equally ridiculous plot, which director John Woo pursued very seriously, creating a serious disconnect between creative intentions and audience perceptions.
Speaking of John Woo, fans of Hong Kong-style action will have a field day with "Charlie's Angels". The film's standout action sequences and fighting moves are provided courtesy of martial arts choreographer Cheung-yan Yuen. A veteran of Hong Kong action cinema, particularly Jet Li's "The Fist of Legend" and "Once Upon a Time in China", Yuen imbibes "Charlie's Angels" with the type of exaggerated martial arts sequences that put Hong Kong action films on the map and dazzled audiences in "The Matrix". The wirework is fast and furious here, with director McG heightening the visceral thrills with the judicious use of slo-mo and wide-frame shots. The cartoon violence never gets boring (even the obligatory car chase takes an interesting turn in this film), and is distracting enough to even forgive the film's slow spots.
Barrymore, Diaz, and Liu each approach their roles with giddy enthusiasm. As the rough-and-tumble one, Barrymore seems to be having a little too much fun, radiating poise and charm. Diaz plays the 'dumb blonde' routine to the hilt, with her Natalie character completely oblivious to the gravity of the situations she finds herself in, such as a memorable sequence where she embarrassingly overestimates her ability to get 'jiggy with it' on the set of "Soul Train", or in the film's climax, where she juggles a rescue mission with a call to her new beau (Luke Wilson of "Rushmore"). Liu, who's made a name for herself as the pathologically-aloof Ling on TV's "Ally McBeal", seems a little out of her element as her character is a little softer than what her screen presence suggests. She only seems truly at home in the film's numerous fight sequences and when she shows up as a leather-clad 'efficiency expert' to whip a group of computer geeks into shape.
As Bosley, Bill Murray's (seen recently in "Hamlet") presence is welcome, since he is perfect when it comes to playing incompetent, foolish, yet charismatic characters, such as he did in "Wild Things". And though he has a few moments to shine in "Charlie's Angels", it would have been nice to see more of him. Rounding out the cast are Curry and Glover, who are appropriately oily as the film's menaces, with Tom Green ("Road Trip"), Lynch, and Rockwell acquitting themselves quite well.
To appreciate "Charlie's Angels", you have to view it for what it is: empty-headed escapist entertainment in the vein of "Army of Darkness", "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery", or "The Heroic Trio". As a send-up to the old television show, it should appeal to "Charlie's Angels" fans, while action mavens should find the martial arts choreography exhilarating. So if your over-taxed brain is in need of a rest or you just want something fun to do for a couple of hours, the loopy drivel of "Charlie's Angels" just might be what you need.