Babes, bombs, and, uh, more babes. Judge Harold Gervais had a very good time indeed reviewing this TV show redux.
Our reviews of Charlie's Angels: Superbit Deluxe Edition (published July 24th, 2003), Charlie's Angels: The Complete First Season (published June 23rd, 2003), Charlie's Angels: The Complete Second Season (published May 28th, 2004), Charlie's Angels: The Complete Third Season (published June 28th, 2006), and Charlie's Angels: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 27th, 2009) are also available.
Once upon a time there were three very different little girls who grew up to be three very different women with three things in common: they're bright, they're beautiful, and they work for me. My name is Charlie.
Based on the television series of the same name comes the film version of Charlie's Angels. This is one of those movies that proves the film going public is often more perceptive than the ones paid to sit in judgment. Charlie's Angels was roundly trashed by the press, but did killer box office. To put it simply and to use a word you will read a lot of in this review; Charlie's Angels is fun. Pure and simple.
For their part, Columbia offers up a DVD version that is well stacked on all counts. Beautiful picture, at the proper levels enough sound to terrorize the neighbors, and a bevy of well produced extra features make Charlie's Angels one of my favorite discs so far in 2001.
Facts of the Case
Brilliant, beautiful and mistresses of disguise, the detectives of the Charles Townsend Agency are on the case of kidnapped computer genius Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell). Natalie Cook (Cameron Diaz), Dylan Sanders (Drew Barrymore) and Alex Mundy (Lucy Liu), along with their trusty sidekick Bosley (Bill Murray) soon find the missing tycoon, but his reappearance ends up posing more questions than it answered. Questions that place the Angels and their mysterious employer in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Questions that beg to be answered, such as who is the silent but deadly killer known only as The Thin Man (Crispin Glover) and who is he really working for? Was Knox's enemy in business, Roger Corwin (Tim Curry), behind the kidnapping, and does he now posses a technical breakthrough that could become one of the world's greatest weapons? What is the record for the most amount of hair flips in a movie? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop? Am I insane for asking these questions or do I just really hate doing plot summaries?
The answers to some of these questions are locked within the thighs of Charlie's Angels, while others may be found at your local newsstand in that "special section." Please don't tell them I sent you.
Wading through film versions of old television series is kind of like sitting through movie adaptations of "Saturday Night Live" skits. For every Wayne's World there are several The Ladies Mans and Superstars to contend with and endure. Well, I happy to report to you that Charlie's Angels is firmly in the Wayne's World camp.
Simply put, Charlie's Angels wants for the audience to have nothing but escapist fun. It is also the kind of movie that is not afraid to beg, borrow or steal whatever it needs to achieve its goal. There are strains of several television shows and movies all throughout Charlie's Angels. Certainly the Bond films are an influence, but then so is Austin Powers. The wirework action scenes bring The Matrix to mind, with the movie also dipping into the warehouse of the best of Hong Kong cinema to achieve its spectacular fight sequences. Throw into the mix several of the movie's best moments come courtesy of Mission Impossible, both the series and the movies, and you have a pretty healthy cinematic stew.
Edited within an inch of its life, Director McG (AKA Joseph McGinty Nichol), brings his music video honed skills to the fore as he never lets Charlie's Angels slow down. He just wants to tell a good story in an exciting fashion and to hell with the critics. On a pretty basic level, this movie knows it will never win any deep thoughts awards but dammit, it moves! Operating in its own little reality or Angel World as McG refers to it, the movie truly is the sum total of all its many parts. As typified by stars Diaz, Barrymore and Liu, those parts are pretty impressive.
This is a movie that generates a lot of good will in its earnest nature to please, but it would all be for naught if not for the performances of its three angels. Of the trio Cameron Diaz probably comes off best, giving her role of Natalie Cook a giddy kind of charm that is totally infectious. One of the best of all contemporary actresses, anyone only has to look at her work in such diverse movies as There's Something About Mary or Being John Malkovich to see she is an actress of great range and skill and something very special. Here she takes to the role of action star like a fish to water, and it doesn't hurt she looks really good wet as well. Diaz moves with such a graceful, fluid elegance that all of the difficulty of the stunt work is tossed aside and we see nothing but her flying through the air, landing with perfect extension and a smile beaming on her face. In a movie featuring three very strong women, Diaz is the one who shoulders most of the film and carries it forward.
If Cameron Diaz comes off like the graceful ballerina soaring through the air, then co-star and co-producer Drew Barrymore (E.T., Batman Returns) is more the bad girl/street fighter. Tough as nails, but with a wounded nature and a heart of gold she tries to hide, Barrymore's Dylan Sanders is the most human of the three angels. It is this grounding in reality, at least the reality of Angel World, that causes her work to be the one that really doesn't fit in with the rest. Barrymore is obviously having fun with the role, but somehow her performance just never meshes with that of the project. She never brings the movie down, but often her solo scenes tend to slow things down a bit. One very odd note worth mentioning as it regards Drew Barrymore. There is a sequence in the film where Diaz and Barrymore go undercover and in disguise as men. Look at it and tell me Barrymore does not look a lot like actor James Spader. As always, I notice these things so you don't have to.
Somewhere in the middle of Diaz and Barrymore is Lucy Liu (Shanghai Noon, "Ally McBeal"), as the third angel, Alex Munday. Hmm, an angel named after television's greatest thief in a film adaptation of another television series? Nope, can't be. But I digress. Liu proves herself worthy of the mantle of angel and while she is not quite as friendly as Diaz's Natalie Cook nor as street smart as Barrymore's Dylan Sanders, Liu does strike the films chilliest, if necessary, pose. The woman truly wanted but unattainable. More dominatrix than angel, Liu looks great in black leather and cracks a mean riding crop. Its funny to realize that in a bygone, less politically correct era all the attributes that make her such a formidable force for good would automatically have cast her in the role of exotic and erotic villain. You know the role. A willing female to provide some male lead with the information he needs only to later have her tossed aside or killed. Wait a minute. That bygone era ended this morning. Or…did…it? Once more, dear reader, I digress. Let me just say this, of all the performances, I was the most surprised by Lucy Liu's and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.
There are other performances worth noting. Bill Murray (Wild Things, Tootsie) is present and for a change even credited. His presence is welcome but the movie never affords him to opportunity to really cut loose. In a film with as naughty a sense of humor as Charlie's Angels, it would have been that much better to let Murray bring his brand of on-the-edge humor to the proceedings. As it stands he is, as always, very watchable. Chalk it more up to a lost chance but not a disaster.
Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, The Green Mile) is very good as the as the man who brings the Charles Townsend Agency into play. Hiding a past and a secret agenda, Rockwell brings to the project a great sense of humor and a distinct dark side. In the process, he proves once more why he should be on most filmgoers' up and comers list.
Kelly Lynch (Drugstore Cowboy) turns up buffed and ready to dance as Rockwell's right hand girl. Basically acting as the opposite to the Diaz character; she shows what happens when an Angel-type strays from the path and becomes a very, very bad girl.
Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue) is also here as the movie's red herring villain, Roger Corwin. All I can say about Curry is if every screen credit had Tim Curry in it, the world would be a happier place. The scene he shares with Bill Murray is one of the film's best and the two, if left to their own devices, could have easily carried the movie all on their own. Probably would not have been called Charlie's Angels but still.
I have but one final acting note and it consists of only two words. Crispin Glover (Back To The Future, Rivers Edge). One of the world's strangest actors is here known only as The Thin Man. It is a role devoid of any dialogue but his is a performance that certainly stands out. Using nothing but body language and facial expressions, Glover is one of the most interesting screen villains in recent memory. Seeing him makes me remember just how truly whacked out, and annoying he was on those David Letterman appearances.
On thing I can say about Columbia is that I almost never fear when I see a movie being released by them on DVD. The disc of Charlie's Angels is no exception.
It almost goes without saying that the film will be presented in its original aspect ratio, in this case 2.35:1 and be given an anamorphic transfer. Sure enough, both statements are true and it is beautiful work. Colors simply pop off the screen with great saturation and not the slightest hint of edge enhancement. Flesh tones—and we do see quite a bit of flesh—are dead on. Blacks are deep and rich, showing great detail with no evidence of pixel breakup or shimmer rearing their unstable heads. Being a brand new movie, the source material used was pristine and the presentation is free of any kind of distractions.
On the sound end, things are also quite good. The mix is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it certainly rocks its way around the house. Directional effects are very good and dialogue is both well recorded and mixed with a great fullness to it. Background distortion is nonexistent and everything is clearly heard no matter what volume setting is your pleasure. If the mix has a weak point, it is with the lack of depth to the .1 channel. I was expecting a lot more low-end work, especially with the movie's big three explosions but its just not there. This is far from being a bad mix, it just lacks the last bit of pizzazz to push it over the top.
Well, it is Columbia after all, and the movie was a hit so it stands to reason that the disc version would come loaded with a boatload of goodies; once more Columbia does not disappoint. First up is a screen specific commentary track with Director McG and cinematographer Russell Carpenter. I have had some pretty good luck lately with commentary tracks, and the one here on Charlie's Angels is a continuation of such good fortune. It is a lively and informative track that features lots of good stories and very few breaks. McG is a very enthusiastic person and he conveys the excitement he feels over this film. Carpenter interjects with some technical information from time to time, and for those of you wondering, yes, he does refer to the director as McG. It is an excellent track and one well worth listening to. As much as I enjoyed this alternate audio track I also wished for an actor's track to hear Bill Murray and the girls talk for an hour and a half. Well, maybe Bill Murray with Tim Curry and the girls could have stayed home. Am I the only one that finds this obsession with Tim Curry a little odd?
Next up are several featurettes that each run in length anywhere from five to seven minutes. While I would have preferred to have them all as one interlocked feature, working that finger on the remote takes time, each are at the very least entertaining and at best informative. First up is "Getting G'd Up" and it is a piece telling the boundless energy Director McG brought to the project. Then we have "The Master and the Angels." This deals in limited fashion with fighting instructor Cheung-Yan Yuen and what put the stars of the movie through to get them in fighting shape for filming. These actors worked four months for eight hours a day to prepare themselves for the exhaustive fight sequences and I was pretty impressed by their level of commitment. Then there are two featurettes dealing with production and costume design titles respectively "Welcome to Angel World" and "Angelic Attire." Technical aspects of the movie are discussed in two featurettes, "Angelic Effects" and "Wired Angels." These were the main two sections where I wished more time and detail had been spent. Like the movie and its mild T&A, these two areas were more tease than anything else and like Chinese food I wanted for more.
The disc also includes some deleted scenes with introductions and some commentary by Director McG and as is usually the case it was easy to see why they were removed.
An outtake and blooper reel is present and it is basically a waste of time. The teaser and the theatrical trailer are presented, in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 no less as well as a pair of music videos from the movie featuring Destiny's Child and Apollo Four Forty. The package is closed out by some talent files, production notes and a direct weblink to the movie's official website.
The only thing that could have made this a better package would have been nude photos of the stars but for that I always have the Internet. God bless the information superhighway.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All of the above praise is not to say that Charlie's Angels is a perfect film. For one thing, Director McG has not learned how to finish off a sequence; rather he just ends it as he quick cuts to the next one. I fully understand that a rapid fire pace is what this movie strives for but there are several times doing the course of Charlie's Angels that I wish he had lingered a little longer. The movie moves so quickly and is so consumed with trying to top itself, that there is often very little time for anything to breathe or relax.
If Charlie's Angels commits any real sin however it is the way Bill Murray is underused by it. One of the funniest men on the planet, all of Murray's scenes come off as restrained and forced. Its as if the screenwriters, all 17 of them from what I have read, were saying, "Okay we have Murray. Now what do we do with him?" It is a question they never managed to answer. As a performer Murray brings a subversive, impish charm to the table and it is this kind of energy the movie could have really used to truly push it over the top.
I have another concern that has very little to do with either Charlie's Angels the movie or the DVD. Instead I found it interesting in going back reading other reviews and seeing just how badly almost everyone missed the point of this movie. These reviews are from the same critical, male dominated press that is quick to praise, or at least accept the latest James Bond movie or the current Willis/Stallone/Schwarzenegger action opus, yet was all too eager to dog or make fun of this female version of the big action movie. It smacks of a double standard to say the least, or at worst, out and out hypocrisy. Are these keepers of critical reportage so jaded that they cannot see a movie that exists only to entertain and just so happens to feature three very strong female leads? Come on Roger Ebert, you give a pretentious piece of crap like The Cell four stars but Charlie's Angels only rates a half a star? What was the big guy thinking? There is more honestly in one frame of Charlie's Angels then there is in the entire running length of that other movie. Come on Roger and all you other guys, lighten up a little, snicker at some sexual innuendo and have some fun.
If you like action movies that move like a bat-out-of-hell and have their tongue firmly planted in their collective cheek, then do yourself a favor and make a beeline to Charlie's Angels. It is a fun filled action movie that makes no apologies about what it wants to be and stands on the strength of its convictions. Well, to that end I say mission accomplished and here is hoping for an equally speedy sequel. Columbia can add a notch to its belt for another well produced and fully armed disc that is well designed and executed. Along with a couple of Criterion discs—Do The Right Thing and The Rock—Charlie's Angels is one of my favorite discs of the still new year and I highly recommend you check it out.
With minor reservations, Charlie's Angels is acquitted of all charges and is free to crack the whip in any and all ways they see fit.
This judge is feeling rather flushed so I declare this courtroom to now be in recess.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director McG and Cinematographer Russell Carpenter
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