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'Angels' Plays All the Right Angles

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2000


    'Charlie's Angels' Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu are feminine forces to be reckoned with in "Charlie's Angels." (Darren Michaels/Columbia Pictures)
The good news about "Charlie's Angels": The gals are fab. And so's the movie.

You were expecting "Angels in America"? This is shlock fun, as directed by McG (gag me with a pretentious moniker), who knows how to tread that fine line between clever parody and over-the-top exaggeration. Les gals are dynamic. They're likable, they turn heads and they know the tongue-in-cheek rules of the game: Look hot for the men (and sharp for the women) but use that babular exterior shell as a decoy for private investigation.

Beware the fool who thinks he can take advantage of these power seraphs.

If you haven't seen the 1970s TV series (starring Kate, Farrah, Jaclyn and all of their comely successors) this movie's based on, here's the cheesy setup. The Angels (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu) are three detectives hired by wealthy, mysterious Charlie (voice of John Forsythe), who runs the business via his speakerphone and his personal assistant, Bosley (deadpan maestro Bill Murray).

But forget the daintiness of the TV show. The movie has powered up. The women are essentially James Bondettes, poised and ready to thwart the latest outbreak of villainy threatening humankind.

They can do anything: speak in Japanese, perform acrobatics that would make them starters for the Cirque du Soleil, operate cutting-edge computer technology, drive formula racing cars, sky dive, ride pinion on helicopter missiles, "Dr. Strangelove"-style – the list is endless. And in "Charlie's Angels," they road test all their skills, including using those feminine wiles for undercover stuff.

The global trouble, this time, involves a computer millionaire named Knox (Sam Rockwell, the evil death row prisoner in "The Green Mile"), a slinky schemer named Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch), leering operator named Roger Corwin (Tim Curry) and a mysterious, mute martial-arts fighter (the uber-weird Crispin Glover) who's impervious to the Angels' battery of punches and kicks. In keeping with Bond rules, the crime has to do with world power, satellites, computers and deceptions, ruses and counter-ruses, blah, blah, blah. It's hardly worth your brain energy to follow the plot.

This isn't about content, anyway. It's about form – the way the Angels look, their lifestyle, their three-musketeer partnership and the often stunning action scenes. Obviously, Mr. McG (that's Joseph McGinty Mitchell on his tax form) has fallen in love with pioneer action director John Woo.

But that's okay. There isn't anything original in this movie. "Charlie's Angels" abounds in the Zen of Hollywood: Stay on the cutting-edge but keep derivative, so you don't lose the masses. And speaking of Bond, it's no coincidence that the cinematographer is Russell Carpenter, who shot the Bond-clone picture "True Lies," or that second unit director Vic Armstrong is a veteran of many Bond films.

The movie, written by too many people to list, never lets up. It's built for speed and playfulness. While the action abounds, there's always time for a few cheeky shots of the Angels – shot from hindquarter view.

"Angels" is, of course, making fun of male peekaboo instincts. And Diaz, clearly the most vivacious performer of the trio, continues that goosing around with some energetic booty wiggling that'll have the audience hooting or cheering – depending on the, uh, viewer sophistication levels involved.

As a co-producer of the movie, Barrymore (who kept the gun presence to a minimum in this movie) hogs the comedy scenes, including an extended sequence in which she finds herself dangling from a precipitous height, dressed only in a towel, then tumbles bare nekkid to the ground. Desperately looking for clothes, she bangs on the living room window of two very surprised preteens playing video games.

If there's disappointment, it has to do with the men. Although Murray is often very funny as the Angels' fussy, butler-esque helper, it's only because Murray's funnier than the role written for him. And Tom Green, who plays a bizarre (of course) steamboat captain known as The Chad, does his weirdest best to steal his scenes. He's only mildly amusing, however, perhaps because many of us have seen his act a few too many times before. But anyway, this is an all-girl thang. It's time for the boys to sit back and support the action for a change. And frankly, the experience is pretty refreshing.

"Charlie's Angels" (PG-13, 90 minutes) – Contains sexual situations, semi-nudity and theatrical violence.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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