[Written for Film.com]
The development of the MTV style has brought us to Armageddon (a two-and-a-half-hour coming attractions trailer for itself) and The Cell (corrupt visual extravagance), so it is very tempting for critics to despair over the kudzu-like growth of this moviemaking approach. On the other hand, the world of music video also planted the seeds of Seven and Being John Malkovich, so it is not entirely a dead end. And now it has brought us to Charlie’s Angels.
Either this nonsensical TV spinoff is a complete disaster, an event to make D.W. Griffith and the Lumière brothers turn over in their graves, or it is the perfection of a certain style. The two things may be very close to each other. To be honest, however, Charlie’s Angels is closer to Richard Lester’s ecstatically fractured Beatles pictures than Armageddon. I hasten to say that Help! is one of my favorite movies, and that Charlie’s Angels doesn’t come close to the kind of unifying daffiness or visual smartness of that pinnacle. But at least it shares a similar spirit.
This film was directed by McG, a music video person, who builds his film around delirious action scenes and plenty of booty. There are worse things to build films around. But it is tempting to say the auteur of the film is star-producer Drew Barrymore; Charlie’s Angels has a sweet-natured, girly energy that corresponds exactly to her sunflower personality. The other crimefighting Angels are Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, both playing in the same loose key; compared to all this knockabout girlpower flying around, Bill Murray (as Charlie’s conduit Bosley) seems positively reserved.
I won’t trouble you with matters of plot, since this doesn’t seem to have troubled anyone involved with the production. Nor should it have: the dumb story is an excuse for bursts of dancing and kung fu fighting, both of which are hilariously rendered. Cameron Diaz has two scenes of exuberant rump-shaking, including one on a stage at Soul Train, that achieve the kind of giddy heights only accessible to a performer willing to make a complete fool of herself. The fighting is Matrix-happy, the gals flying through the air with a buoyant sense of unreality.
One illogical thing happens after another. Why does Diaz take off in a race car after villainous henchman Crispin Glover? Because the movie needed a car chase. How does he survive the ensuing plunge off a high bridge? I don’t know—because he’s Crispin Glover and Crispin Glover cannot be killed by ordinary means? The other men, mostly decorative, include Sam Rockwell, Luke Wilson, Matt LeBlanc and Tom Green. It would have been nice if someone had written dialogue that didn’t sound so leaden; every time you want to join in on the fun of the slapstick, someone has to open her mouth and speak, and things go flat. Still, Charlie’s Angels is something rare: a mess of a movie that is somehow infectious, and infectious not despite the mess but because of it. From which I can only conclude that Drew Barrymore may be some kind of 21st-century genius.