November 9, 2000

Something Special in the Air

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Usually, the words “based on the hit TV show” strike fear into the hearts and souls of moviegoers. Let’s face it, the only things more likely to bomb than a movie based on an old TV show is a movie based on a Saturday Night Live skit or a movie that has the words “Free Willy #” in its title. Fortunately, Charlie’s Angels is one of those few made-from-TV movies to buck the bomb trend.

The basic plot of this slick, tongue-in-cheek remake of the 70’s hit TV series remains faithful to its roots: mysterious, never-seen millionaire Charles Townsend (voiced by John Forsythe, who also provided the voice in the original series) recruits a trio of uber-competent, uber-skilled, uber-sexy ladies to form an elite high-tech detective agency. The three all-new Angels are played by the babealicious Cameron Diaz, the babealicious Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore, who was once babealicious but is kind of gross now when you realize she kisses Tom Green with that mouth. Aiding them is the bumbling middle-man Bosley, played by Bill Murray.

All three ladies throw themselves into their roles, looking like they’re having a blast vamping it up as the Angels. The rampant T&A factor is balanced by the characters’ utter confidence, ability, and the fact that they constantly use their charms to play the men of the film like violins (and oh, what sweet music these girls make). This is the kind of role Liu was apparently born to do, playing the icy, austere beauty to the hilt as she always does. The exception is Diaz’s endearing character, who is totally oblivious to her sexual appeal and the effect she has on men. Murray meanwhile cruises through the movie in the sedated-yet-spastic form that’s made him famous. The aforementioned Tom Green (who snags a bit part in the film as, surprise, Barrymore’s lover) should take lessons from Murray: you can act goofy and get laughs without also looking like you ate too much paste as a kid.

Angels is directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol, or “McG” as he appears in the credits. If he’s trying to make himself seem more hip and edgy, he should probably choose a nickname that doesn’t sound like it’s the name of a new McDonald’s sandwich targeted at inner city youth. Three words most accurately describe McG’s directorial style: high on crack.

The movie jumps from one scene to the next like a hyperactive lemur on speed, at times with little rhyme or reason. This guy makes director John Woo, known in the U.S. for Face/Off and Mission: Impossible 2, look like a Valium addict. McG also makes copious use of the 360-degree panning special effect seen in the Matrix — during the fight sequences it’s used in practically every single shot. You’d think the damn special effect was going out of style, and thanks to McG and Charlie’s Angels it probably will. And since every move is done in super-twisty-slow-mo, it dilutes the impact of the otherwise entertaining action scenes.

Despite the flashy, cutting-edge panning effects, the fight choreography is done in a thoroughly old-school, campy Hong Kong action flick style. The Angels fly through the air like someone lit a fire under them (and there must be a fire there, because those bottoms are hot!), doing all kinds of crazy flips, spinning roundhouses, and bicycle kicks across impossible distances.

There’s enough twists in the plot to make the movie interesting, even if the twists are telegraphed from a mile away. And there are numerous genuinely funny moments throughout the film (Green isn’t involved in any of them). Besides, you don’t come to this kind of movie expecting a gripping, dramatic tour-de-force. You come expecting to turn your brain off, sit back, and have a little mindless fun.

The film is fluff, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s fun fluff that takes itself so lightly that you can’t help but have a good time watching it. The film doesn’t take itself at all seriously, and if you don’t either, you’ll be fine.

And in retrospect the high-octane pace is probably a good idea since it keeps you from thinking too hard about what you’re watching. Like the part where the Chinese Liu goes undercover as a Japanese masseuse, working at a massage parlor called Madame Wong’s, which is built like a Japanese Shinto shrine, and is located in the middle of Chinatown. Trying to unravel logic-defying scene set-ups like this one will certainly break your brain.

Archived article by Matt Chock