At the press junket for "Charlie's Angels," director McG (pronounced McGee),
a music video and commercial veteran, explained his approach towards his
feature film debut. "We wanted to make a big, colorful, exciting,
larger-than-life sort of film that feels like you shook up a bottle of
champagne and just splashed it over a bunch of celluloid," he said. "The
goal was to take the comedy and turn it to 11, take the action and turn it
to 11, take the sexiness and turn it to 11 and just max out this film…'"
Somebody get that boy some Ritalin.
McG achieved his goal. The big screen adaptation of the hit TV action series
from the '70s certainly reflects the unbridled enthusiasm of his mission
statement. From beginning to end, it cheerfully assaults the viewer with
every imaginable cinematic gimmick, punctuated by snippets of no less than
39 pop songs. "Charlie's Angels" isn't just a high-octane version of the
original. It's also a 98-minute music video, a slapstick comedy, a special
effects showcase, a stunt spectacular, a James Bond knock-off, a chop-socky
fight movie and a paean to the '60s "Batman" TV show's camp sensibilities.
In short, the film is a mess. More often than not, it's a surprisingly fun
mess, however, even though McG's inexperience with long-form productions
becomes more and more obvious as the story barrels forward with all the
finesse of a dozen Superballs ricocheting in a small closet. I left
"Charlie's Angels" entertained, but exhausted.
The plot, such as it is, goes as follows. Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Dylan
(Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) are the latest batch of ex-cops working
for the Townsend Detective Agency, where they receive their assignments by
phone from the always-unseen Charlie (voiced by John Forsythe, the only
returning member of the original cast). Aided by their faithful right-hand
man, Bosley (Bill Murray), the Angels set out to retrieve kidnapped software
genius Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell) and keep his cutting-edge voice-recognition
technology from falling into evil hands. Along the way, they must deal with
imperious a top-level Knox exec Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch), corporate
competitor Roger Corwin (Tim Curry, as smarmy as ever) and the Thin Man
(Crispin Glover), an extremely dangerous goon with a hair fetish.
Of course, the storyline is just a contrivance to allow the women to do
battle with bad guys while wearing various exotic costumes (two of the
Angels dress up in drag and, as a man, Drew Barrymore is a dead ringer for
James Spader). Incidentally, even though their enemies are heavily armed,
the Angels do not carry guns, proving definitively that Charlie's last name
is not Heston.
The film starts off with a bang-up James Bond style set piece, as the camera
seamlessly glides through the clouds into a passing luxury airliner, where
LL Cool J is dealing with a nut case. Abruptly, LL opens the emergency exit,
throws the man out and leaps after him, leading into a skydiving sequence.
The pair ends up in a speedboat, where we finally meet the Angels.
As with the TV series, each Angel, while smart as a whip and multitalented,
can be summed up in one word. Drew Barrymore (who co-produces the film) is
the sexy one, Cameron Diaz is the giddy one and Lucy Liu is the devilish
one. The three actors are clearly having a wonderful time with their roles
and each is afforded showcase moments. Liu gets to play dominatrix in an
efficiency expert scene, Diaz shakes her small, but shapely booty to the
tune of "Baby Got Back" in a comic bit on the set of "Soul Train," and
Barrymore plays seductress with a limo driver in a revealing scene that
makes it clear why David Letterman smiled so widely when she danced on his
desk and flashed him.
A lot of "Charlie's Angels" works. The camaraderie between the women is
winning, some of the stunts are spectacular and a fair percent of the jokes
are actually funny (check out the slow-motion-hair-flipping instructions
during a party scene). I particularly enjoyed the frequent use of rear
screen projection, a clever nod to the cut rate filming techniques employed
by the original series.
What doesn't work is most of Bill Murray's shtick, the less-than-graceful
"Matrix" style wire work during the martial arts segments, McG's uneven,
needlessly rapid editing style and his insistence on framing every shot as
if it was the highlight of a music video. Flinging everything but the
kitchen sink at the viewer may work in a three-minute MTV clip, but
stretched over the length of a film, it grows old fast. Even in an amusing
trifle like "Charlie's Angels," things like consistency of tone still
matter. Next time, McG, try turning it down to 9 every once in a while.
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott