Charlie's Angels (2000)

D: McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol)
S: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu

Lively semi-parodic remake of the seventies TV show best remembered by thirtysomething males with a memory of their favourite 'angel' which still keeps them warm at night. The show was essentially a series of excuses for three beautiful women to get into various states of undress and/or compromise while solving mysteries for the mysterious 'Charlie' (voiced on TV and in the film by John Forsythe but famously never seen clearly), who owned their detective agency. In the age of more militant concepts of appropriate representations of women and after the death of disco, Charlie's Angels was a virtual red rag to feminism which could only have seen the light of day as a remake given certain conditions. For a start, it couldn't possibly take itself seriously. In the vain hope of deflecting feminist anger, only a movie with its tongue firmly in its cheek could even try to make this premise work. Secondly, it would have to ride the crest of a wave of seventies retro films and styles, so there would be yet another level of postmodernist irony with which it could be appreciated. Thirdly, though the Angels were always pretty tough really, they would have to be mega tough without becoming masculinised in order to please both camps: the rabid, drooling XY chromos and the more tolerant females who might giggle at the Powerpuff Girls in live action form if the mood took them.

Charlie's Angels is everything it needed to be to get away with it. It is fast-moving, cheeky from the get go about exactly what it is, provides plenty of action and mild titillation without taking either very seriously, and it is over in a snappy hour and a half or so. The three female stars are radiant and seem to be having fun with it. Bill Murray makes a surprisingly effective Bosley and there's a wonderful performance from Crispin Glover as a sinister comic-book villain who is everything that The Avengers wanted to have but didn't (Tim Curry turns up as well, but he's a little more restrained than usual). It's broad, it's noisy, it's confidently excessive, and in the manner of movies like The Mummy, is likely to leave you with a silly grin on your face if you let it or have you bristling with indignation if you want it to.

Of note among the multiplicity of names which turn up on the writing and producing credits are two: Ed Solomon among the former and Betty Thomas among the latter. Solomon is probably best known as the writer of the Bill & Ted adventures, but also as co-scripter of Men in Black. Thomas was of course famous as an actor before she became a director, but her adaptation of The Brady Bunch was a dead on parody which made fun of its subject without dismissing its core. Charlie's Angels has some of the qualities which made these films work, and it is far from the cheap cash-in that most people would rightly have expected.

The film has a lot of savvy humour and trades upon self-awareness, but it also delivers as a light adventure. It takes bits and pieces out of whatever proves handiest from James Bond movies and The Matrix to Mission: Impossible to tell a story about techno crime and industrial espionage which really doesn't matter. The action scenes are well mounted but surprisingly uninterested in detail. Rather than risk comparison with the elaborate set pieces in 'straight' action films Charlie's Angels just gets on with the broad strokes and keeps things moving at all costs. The camera lingers on its heroines in action rather than the action or violence itself, and yes, it is completely fetishistic and cosmetic-commercial in style most of the time in representing them. The script is canny enough to avoid moralising when it can ill afford to. There is no real attempt to develop the characters or explore their backstories. There is some mild thematic musing about Drew Barrymore's character's quest for a lost father, but essentially the Angels are exactly what they have to be: all coiffed, all butt kicking and to hell with the grad school psychobabble.

Charlie's Angels is a lot of fun if you are of a mind to have fun with it. It is well put together and well aware of what it's doing from start to finish, so kudos is due to all concerned rather than smug indulgence. The problem with it is that it is unlikely to work as well ever again, and if it does prove a box-office hit, a sequel is probably inevitable. Barrymore's Flower Films are among the producers, and the smarts she showed with Never Been Kissed have been shown again with a clever choice of project. Her performance also reflects her willingness to play to the gallery when it suits her, and the same goes for Cameron Diaz (My Best Friend's Wedding, Any Given Sunday) and Lucy Liu (Shanghai Noon). Fans, admirers, and obsessives will no doubt wish to tune in to see just what the three ladies get up to, and the film will provide a similar set of warm memories of you have such a disposition as to enjoy them. If not, then perhaps you might be better off perusing the World Cinema section of your local video library or settling down with a nice mug of tea. Charlie's Angels is really quite harmless, so don't get too upset about it either way.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.