Charlie’s Angels (movie)

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“…and then there’s the ho.”

Making movies based on a TV show is always fraught with danger. You’ve got to convince the audience to pay good money to see the same thing they can watch for free at home, yet you can’t stray too far from the central concept, or you’ll alienate the fans. One possible countermeasure is to go for an old show, less likely to have a rabid fanbase, which you can update safely. Yet this too is problematic: anyone see The Mod Squad?

Charlie’s Angels, however, avoids most of the pitfalls, and is a thoroughly enjoyable blast – little wonder it took more money at the box-office than almost any other female action movie in history. While not faultless (the lack of characterisation is particularly woeful), it never sets out to be any more than a good time, and in that capacity it succeeds admirably, mixing violence, sex and humour to optimum efficiency. The plot can be easily dismissed: the trio investigate a kidnapped computer tycoon, only to find things are not quite what they seem, as they uncover a plot to kill their unseen boss, Charlie. There – that’s that out of the way.

Almost as rapidly put aside are the lead characters: Alex (Liu), Natalie (Diaz), and Dylan (Barrymore). Margaret Cho once said – partly in reference to the original Charlie’s Angels TV series – that whenever you get three female friends, there’s the smart one, the pretty one…and then there’s the ho. True to form, the movie replicates this: Alex’s main scene has her as a ferocious efficiency expert, the main ambition for Natalie seems to be to appear on Soul Train (in a totally irrelevant but good-natured sequence), while Dylan beds the client without even reaching a “first date”. Work out which is which yourself. :-)

If there’s nothing there to keep you interested, the film makes up for it in lots of other ways. The aim was to make it seem like turning pages of a comic-book, and this certainly succeeds – there’s always something going on. While the nods to political correctness are kinda irritating (the villain and all his henchmen can muster precisely one gun between them), no-one is really taking it seriously, and the tongue-in-cheek approach saves the whole thing. The supporting cast are good, too: Bill Murray as their overseer is his usual laconic self, while Kelly Lynch and Crispin Glover give good support to Sam Rockwell.

The film manages to capture the spirit of the original show, without being a slave to it. I appreciated the nods to its predecessor e.g. the voice of Charlie being the same actor, and I believe even the speakerphone was the very one used on the TV show! The soundtrack, similarly, is a nice mix of old and new, though points must be deducted for the film being partly responsible for inflicting Destiny’s Child on the universe at large.

 It is, however, the action scenes which stand out and, frankly, make up for the film’s deficiencies in other areas. Yuen Cheung-Yan is the brother of Yuen Wo-Ping – perhaps the greatest exponent of HK action – and while not quite as innovative or super-smooth as his sibling, he’s clearly cut from the same cloth. At the risk of sounding sexist, don’t forget we’re talking a bunch of girlies here – Diaz, Barrymore and Liu all came in without significant martial arts experience, and making them look as good as they do is a great feat. Kudos, too, for the actresses in question, who clearly put in no little effort themselves. [Thank heavens Thandie Newton, who single-handedly destroyed the first half of Mission Impossible 2, was unable to take part, and Lucy Liu stepped in.]

The pacing is a little weird though; apart from one impressive battle between the trio and Crispin Glover in a back-alley (to the tune of the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up), all the martial arts is concentrated in one 20-minute span near the end. At one point we have Cameron Diaz taking on Kelly Lynch, Lucy Liu going toe-to-toe with Glover and Drew Barrymore taking on a whole roomful at virtually the same time, and the cross-cutting does get a little aggravating. Barrymore’s battle is very show-offish: she tells her opponents what she’s going to do, pauses in mid-stream to name the fighting techniques, and moonwalks out of there when she’s done. A tap on the wrist and a warning not to do it again, Drew.

Indeed, much the same could probably be said of the entire movie. It works beautifully, despite its flaws, but it wouldn’t bear frequent repetition. It’s no bad thing that, because of scheduling conflicts, the sequel isn’t due out until three years after the original. Candy is indeed dandy, but it’s not the sort of thing from which you can form your staple diet.

Dir: McG
Stars: Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Sam Rockwell

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