With autumn comes crisper temperatures, colorful foliage, and the return of serious, adult fare to the megaplex. This is the time of year when the studios put away their loud, overpriced summer toys and roll out the Oscar contenders – daring, thought-provoking films that push the boundaries of the medium and let us experience anew the wonder of cinema. Which brings us, of course, to Charlie’s Angels. The latest proof that summer in Hollywood now lasts all year round, Angels is yet another update of a 70’s television artifact, in this case, the crown jewel of ABC’s renowned jiggle era. (Can Three’s Company be far behind?) A slapdash romp through the pop culture junkyard, tricked up with MTV editing, Matrix-style bullet time effects, and celebrity cameos galore, the movie aims low and pretty much hits its mark. It’s campy and goofy and sometimes even groovy, but most of all it’s an exercise in planned obsolescence. By the time it hits video store shelves, it will already look dated.
The premise, for those who may not have been thirteen-year-old males when the original series aired: Charlie is a reclusive millionaire who runs a private detective agency comprised of three attractive young women – the smart one and the two who run around in skimpy outfits. The new movie has been re-jiggered (re-jiggled?) to eliminate the concept of the smart one and allow all three to run around in skimpy outfits. This time around the angels are Dylan (Drew Barrymore), Alex (Lucy Liu) and Natalie (Cameron Diaz), with John Forsythe reprising his role as the heard-but-never-seen Charlie, and an underused Bill Murray as Charlie’s intermediary, Bosley. The plot is a sub-007 mishmash that appears to involve a kidnapped software magnate, global positioning satellites, and Crispin Glover skulking around and smoking furiously. The only real purpose of the script is to provide opportunities for Diaz to shake her booty at the camera, Liu to belly dance, and Barrymore to prance around in lederhosen. There are worse ways to spend ninety minutes (Blair Witch 2, for instance).
The ringmaster of this circus is someone known as "McG", who is apparently a veteran music video director. This comes as no surprise, since Charlie’s Angels has the attention span of a hummingbird and enough computer generated gimmickry to sink the Titanic all over again. Since these angels don’t use guns (at the insistence of producer and co-star Barrymore), much of the newfangled technology is put to use investing them with superhuman martial arts abilities. There’s no shortage of high-flying aerial kicks, spinning acrobatics and lightning-quick karate chops, but never fear, action fans: McG does manage to sneak in an explosion every ten minutes or so. It’s hard to be too curmudgeonly, though, since it’s all done in a spirit of fun that completely eludes lumbering bloatfests like MI:2 (whose latex masks and slow motion birds are sent up herein).
If the movie has a thought in its head, it is probably some half-formed inkling of being a grrrl power fantasy for the new millennium. But from the possessive title (these angels are still workin’ for the Man, after all) to the form-hugging costumes (Barrymore wears several outfits that reveal cleavage in no need of digital enhancement) to the ditzy personas of the three leads (the Powerpuff Girls have more depth), it’s clear that this notion doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Better to disengage the higher brain functions and enjoy the fleeting, disposable moments: The opening credits, featuring scenes from non-existent Charlie’s Angels episodes. A beaming Diaz making her dream come true with a rump-shaking star turn on Soul Train. Real-life Barrymore paramour Tom Green’s amusing cameo as "the Chad." The rhyming team of Bill Murray and Tim Curry squaring off in rubber sumo wrestling suits. And the hallmark of all the best cheesy movies, the closing credit bloopers. You won’t get those in your thought-provoking, daring Oscar contenders, now will you?