Charlie’s Angels (review)

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Oh No, Girl!

Someone out in La-La Land has strange ideas about what constitutes “female empowerment.” A lot of someones, actually. Charlie’s Angels — positioned as an up-with-girl-power adaptation of the faux women’s-lib TV series — reportedly burned through 17 writers and $6 million to get to a final script. And the result of all that creative effort? PG-13 pornography, an SI swimsuit issue for the big screen with lots of slo-mo hair tossing, blouses unbuttoned down to there, asses shoved in the camera, closeups on moist lips. Vapid and self-consciously kitschy, these gals are a 13-year-old boy’s fantasy of a strong woman. This is Hollywood aiming T&A at little girls, but I wouldn’t let any little girl I cared about see this film.
There’s someone here for every juvenile male taste. Natalie (Cameron Diaz: Being John Malkovich, Very Bad Things) is the ditzy bimbo who wears boys’ Spiderman Underoos and has no idea that half of what she says can be taken as sexual innuendo — she’s supposed to be the innocent one. Dylan (Drew Barrymore: Ever After, Scream) uses men the way stereotypical men use women, but this is just a way to deal with her fear of abandonment — she’s the tough girl who’s a mush underneath. Alex (Lucy Liu: Shanghai Noon, Payback) is the blueblood who wears tight leather and uses a riding crop to get men’s attention — she’s the dominatrix. (Am I the only one who wonders if Liu is getting tired of this role?)

They’re “brilliant, beautiful, and they work for me,” says the mysterious recluse millionaire Charlie, who hires them out as private investigators. Why a reclusive millionaire needs his own squad of lady PIs never really gets covered, but it doesn’t matter. Charlie’s Angels the movie is exactly what Charlie’s Angels the television series was: the chance for everyone involved, from cast and crew to audience, to pretend they’re participating in something progressive and liberating when they’re just enjoying the jiggle.

Beautiful they may be, but their brilliance is debatable. Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch: Cocktail) hires the angels to find her boss, computer genius Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell: Galaxy Quest, The Green Mile), whom she says has been kidnapped by rival electronics manufacturer Roger Corwin (Tim Curry: The Titanic Chronicles, McHale’s Navy), whom I could swear is referred to as “John Corwin” several times — I guess that’s what happens when you employ 17 writers. Do the angels do their own investigating? Of course not — they take Vivian’s word on it all, because if they don’t, the rest of the ludicrous plot could not unfold.

And the details of the plot are nonsensical even by the loose standards of action movies. The intricate machinations of the bad guys demand that they be psychic, because their nefarious plan requires that the angels will go about their investigation in very precise ways that should not be predictable. A car chase onto a bridge suddenly ends, though no one has turned around, with both cars facing each other from either end of the bridge in a standoff. Cool James Bond gear and fabulous outfits appear from nowhere precisely when the angels need them. Dylan can convincingly disguise herself — à la Mission: Impossible — as a 300-pound African prince in one scene, but in another resorts to an obviously fake mustache and ill-fitting man’s suit to pass as a guy.

In case I haven’t made it clear that this is not a sappy chick flick full of girls talking about their periods and their feelings, I’ll do so now. This is a mindlessly violent, unfunny attempt to shoehorn scantily dressed women into the comic action-hero role usually played by men. Drew Barrymore, one of the producers of Charlie’s Angels, used her spoiled-brat clout to dictate that the angels could not use guns, which I’d normally say was a good thing, as guns onscreen give the writers and hence the characters cheap outs in tough situations and make it much too easy for even the good guys to kill without compunction. But never fear. The gunless angels show no remorse in depressurizing a plane full of people at 35,000 feet, beating the shit out of anyone who gets in their way, or driving so recklessly that innocent civilians are put in mortal danger, like the poor schmoe in the car that flips half a dozen times during a high-speed chase that Natalie instigates.

So we gals are supposed to enjoy the healthy dollop of ass-kicking typical of movies of this sort because it’s girls who are doing the kicking this time. But though their case involves industrial espionage relating to Knox’s voice-ID software and Corwin’s GPS system and so demands that they play with computers and cool technology for about three seconds, it also involves the angels disguising themselves as belly dancers and geisha girls in a Japanese massage parlor/whorehouse and generally prancing around like idiots and giggling like hyenas. Need to distract a man’s attention while your sister-in-arms is up to something sneaky? Lick the steering wheel of his car as provocatively as possible — guys love that. And feel free to let flirting with a cute guy take precedence over working, and especially feel free to stop in the middle of a life-and-death situation to take a phone call from him. Not only is being a real-life sex toy the best way to get what you want, but sexual allure is a gal’s greatest asset, so you should never pass up the opportunity to sharpen related skills… or so we’re led to believe. The anti go-girl sentiment gets even more blatant in one scene, when, as the angels take on a creepy bad guy (Crispin Glover: Nurse Betty) in hand-to-hand combat, “Smack My Bitch Up” swells on the soundtrack. Just whom are we supposed to be rooting for here, anyway?

Bill Murray (Cradle Will Rock, Caddyshack) as Bosley, the angels go-between with Charlie, is criminally wasted, as are Glover and Rockwell — two smart actors who deserve better than this — and the charming Luke Wilson (My Dog Skip, Dog Park) as the cute guy Natalie risks life and limb to flirt with. But the real crime here is the idea that “female empowerment” means wriggling your ass to get ahead in the world. I wonder how many of those 17 writers were women?

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Watch Charlie’s Angels online using LOVEFiLM‘s streaming service.

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