Never send a man to do a woman’s job,” growls a leatherclad wildcat as she heads off to kick some butt in “Charlie’s Angels,” and it’s a remark that pretty much sums up the sassy chickpic appeal of this rambunctious, high-octane, latex-thin contempo take on one of the ’70s’ most popular television series. Packed with action, attitude, skin-tight costumes and enough dazzling white smiles and slo-mo hair flips for a season’s worth of toothpaste and shampoo commercials, this entertaining confection possesses the substance of the TV show, the pacing of a Hong Kong actioner and the production values of a James Bond thriller. And it is the somewhat younger equivalent of the vast audience that Bond films reliably draw upon that Sony will capture with this broadly appealing romp, with extra potential repped by teenage girls and boys who may keep coming back for more, in theaters and at home, until a sequel is ready.
As it was with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson (and, later, Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack and Tanya Roberts) on TV from 1976-81, the babes are the thing here, and it will be the rare viewer, male and female, who won’t enjoy the sheer visual and visceral pleasure of watching Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu strut, slink, kick, dance and vamp their way through this splashy femme empowerment fantasy.
What with this and Ang Lee’s similarly female-slanted “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” poised to dominate the action market through the holidays, slighted-feeling boys may start wanting to get some of their own back. In the meantime, however, few will complain that they aren’t getting their jollies from the outlandish mayhem served up in both pictures.
“Charlie’s Angels” presents its bigscreen credentials in the opening seconds, zeroing in unconventionally on the clouds in the Columbia Pictures logo to reveal a jet endangered by an on-board bomber.
This breezy, very Bond-like teaser, which begins at 35,000 feet and ends with the three Angels zooming along the Pacific coastline in a speedboat, establishes the film’s energetic physicality as well as its cheerful, mildly self-referential tone (one character complains when the in-flight attraction is revealed to be “another movie based on an old TV show”–“T.J. Hooker: The Movie”).
Nor does it take long for the first-time feature director known as McG (a commercials and music video whiz kid) to announce that he has no intention of presenting a single shot that doesn’t provoke some kind of special surface stimulation.
In this he is greatly aided by Diaz, Barrymore and Liu who appear, respectively, as Natalie, Dylan and Alex, three young ladies who are not only gorgeous, sexy and fun but can do just about anything except find men who are anywhere near their level.
Working for the reclusive millionaire Charlie (voiced, as ever, by John Forsythe), the gals team with their immediate supervisor, Bosley (Bill Murray), in taking on the case of Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell), a young high-tech genius who has been kidnapped. Falling immediately under suspicion is Roger Corwin (Tim Curry), a satellite communications kingpin who could conceivably use Knox’s invention — voice-identification software that’s more reliable than fingerprinting — for his own nefarious ends.
It’s the usual potential-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it action thriller format, this time featuring bad guys brandishing guns and swords being regularly bested by babes blessed with gravity-defying martial arts skills. Latter abilities come into play about a half-hour in, as the Angels take on Corwin’s skinny, silent, blade-wielding henchman (Crispin Glover) en route to locating Knox.
While the spectacle of the three women executing wire-enabled leaps, jumps, flips, kicks and other maneuvers — under the supervision of Cheung-Yan Yuen, the “Master” of “The Matrix” and innumerable Hong Kong actioners — is enjoyable, it’s nothing that’s not been seen before and has not been shot and, particularly, edited for maximum effectiveness; there are too many cuts in these sequences, giving the impression of something that’s been stitched together rather than of fluid motion that’s all of a piece. All the same, it still beats Tom Cruise trying to be a kung fu star in “Mission: Impossible 2.”
Script by Ryan Rowe (“Tapeheads”), Ed Solomon (“Men in Black,” the “Bill & Ted” duo) and John August (“Go”), is divided into three half-hour segments, each with its own climax, which gives the picture the feel of three TV episodes played back-to-back-to-back, not a bad thing under the circumstances.
With Knox rescued to conclude the first seg, second round is kicked off by a Formula One car race between Natalie and Glover’s baddie that quickly leaves the track and continues on public roads. Pic’s literally high-flying initial nature then becomes more earthbound as the girls employ a variety of disguises and technological tricks to enter the massively protected mainframe of Corwin’s master computer, in the hopes of discovering whether or not he’s actually taken possession of Knox’s software.
Middle section also provides some downtime for a little R&R: Dylan enjoys a little sack action with the initially nerdy Knox, Alex hangs out with her earnest actor b.f. Jason (Matt LeBlanc), and the ever-enthusiastic Natalie does a feature dance at a retro Soul Trail club while on a first date with puppyish waiter Pete (Luke Wilson). Even the reticent Bosley is romanced by Knox’s aggressive business partner Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch).
But neither of the high-tech entrepreneurs is what they appear to be, and final half-hour is devoted to the Angels’ urgent rescue of Bosley from a cliffside tower, which involves some pretty good mano a mano between Natalie and Vivian, and the exciting thwarting of the villain’s airborne attempt to take out the reclusive Charlie at his secret oceanside retreat.
Pic’s buoyant style is set and sustained in equal measure by the leading players and by the production team. Of the three women, Diaz is indisputably the dazzler; with her long limbs, beach-blond hair, lagoon-blue eyes, milewide smile and shimmying booty, she all but pops off the screen as if in 3-D, and rarely has a performer conveyed the impression of being so happy to be in a particular movie.
Co-producer Barrymore attractively plays the most sexual of the threesome in a way that’s both teasing and demure, and is also the only one supplied with anything resembling a psychological dimension — she never knew her father, hence her job working for a man she’s never met. Liu’s approach is more serious and conventional, and therefore makes less of a distinctive impression.
Murray applies his usual sardonic edge to the demands of some straightforward clowning to make something out of his limited opportunities, while Rockwell, Lynch, Curry and Glover make well-defined evildoers.
Above all, McG supplies the action with endless juice. But he also knows how to frame and move the camera, and the pedal-to-the-metal approach is what’s called for given that the material is as substantial as Perrier bubbles.
It was also wise to keep the running time of the film proper down to scarcely more than 90 minutes. As resplendently lensed by Russell Carpenter, pic has a rich studio look even though much of it was shot on location. J. Michael Riva’s production design and Joseph G. Aulisi’s costumes combine modest elements of ’70s kitsch without relying on retro recognition for laughs, and the combination of Edward Shearmur’s score and snippets of 39 pop tunes keeps the soundtrack popping.