[Screen It]

(2000) (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: Three beautiful and sexy detectives are hired to find a kidnapped software executive only to uncover an elaborate murder-revenge plot that threatens worldwide privacy as well as their very existence.
Dylan (DREW BARRYMORE), Natalie (CAMERON DIAZ) and Alex (LUCY LIU) are three beautiful and sexy private investigators who work for Charlie Townsend (voice of JOHN FORSYTHE), a reclusive figure they've never met and who delivers their assignments to them via speakerphone. Proficient in espionage through their use of various high-tech tools, martial arts and disguises, the "Angels" - along with Charlie's front man, Bosley (BILL MURRAY) - always get the job done.

Their latest assignment involves finding Eric Knox (SAM ROCKWELL), the founder of Knox Technologies who's just been kidnapped. He's recently designed a voice-identification program that's more accurate than fingerprinting and Vivian Wood (KELLY LYNCH), the president of his company, believes that rival Roger Corwin (TIM CURRY), who runs Red Star Systems, may be behind the crime.

As the Angels begin to investigate Corwin, have various violent encounters with a mysterious character known only as the Thin Man (CRISPIN GLOVER), and deal with various significant others in their lives such as Jason (MATT LeBLANC), Chad (TOM GREEN) and Pete (LUKE WILSON), they deploy all sorts of disguises and tools while trying to solve the crime. What they uncover, however, soon puts their, Bosley's and Charlie's lives in dangers.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Although as movie reviewers, film critics and the like, most of us try to remain impartial and not pass judgment on a film until after we've seen it, we're only human and thus bring certain grudges, predispositions, etc. into the theater for our screenings.

Some critics nurse resentment - for any number of reasons -- against certain performers or filmmakers, and most have a problem whenever a Roman numeral is at the end of the title (e.g. a sequel). The same often holds true for films that are the first efforts of those who've only directed TV commercials and music videos, as well as remakes of old films and big screen adaptations of old TV shows.

The former is because most music video and TV commercial directors have never had to direct anything longer than a few minutes and often rely on any given band's music to carry much of their project. As far as turning old TV shows into movies, while a few have worked (such as "Star Trek" and "The Fugitive"), many haven't ("The Avengers"). Of course, some use the old show as a target for ridicule (some loving, some not) such as "The Brady Bunch," but for the most part, there's a good reason such stories originally appeared in 30 or 60 minute form rather than as a feature length film with a budget larger than the GNP of many 3rd world countries.

That said, I wasn't particularly crazy about the idea of seeing the big screen version of "Charlie's Angels." After all, the popular 1970s era show was really only known for one thing - ample amounts of T&A provided by the likes of Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett, the latter of whom, like Suzanne Somers from "Three's Company," got too big for her britches and decided to jump ship only to be replaced by a succession of other sexy women -- and the "detective stories," of course, were really just an afterthought. To top if off, it didn't help when I learned that this adaptation would be helmed by yet another TV commercial and music video veteran making his first foray onto the silver screen.

As such, I figured the movie was either going to be horrendous to the point of torture, or maybe, just maybe, it would take the Brady Bunch route and make fun of its predecessor. The answer came in the very first scene where a character, upon sighting "T.J. Hooker: The Movie" playing on the in-flight screen of an airline flight, bemoans yet another movie being based on an old TV show.

Quite quickly after that, a bomb-toting character is yanked off the plane - in flight - and hurtles to the ground in a scene obviously inspired by the stunt-filled openings of most James Bond films. The film then proceeds through a goofy title sequence that's obviously poking fun, in a fond way, at the same from the TV show.

That several minute sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film and tells us several important things about it. For one, it's certainly not a serious remake of the TV show - which wasn't that solemn to begin with - and needs a heaping dose of suspension of disbelief to buy into what happens and thus allow the film to get away with the stupid things that occur.

It also imparts that this is going to be a sexy, high-octane romp aimed squarely as those too young to remember the TV show, where plot, character development and any form of substance all take a back seat to style, a sassy attitude and tons of visual panache. That said, this clearly isn't your father's "Charlie's Angels," and while it's a fun, high-spirited and lively adventure, "grown ups" might not appreciate it as much as those in their teens and twenties.

Rather than take the route that many such adaptations do in telling the film's story as if it's brand new, TV commercial and music video veteran McG -- who's making his feature film debut and working from a script by screenwriters Ryan Rowe ("Tapeheads," the TV remake of "The Love Bug") & Ed Solomon ("What Planet Are You From?" "Men in Black") and John August ("Titan A.E.," "Go") - has crafted the film as if it's yet the latest season of the old show.

As such, stars Drew Barrymore ("Never Been Kissed," "Ever After"), Cameron Diaz ("Any Given Sunday," "Being John Malkovich") and Lucy Liu ("Shanghai Noon," "Play It to the Bone") have now replaced the TV regulars, but the filmmakers haven't stopped there. While the disembodied, speaker-phone based voice of John Forsythe still serves as Charlie who assigns the Angels to their latest assignments, they're now proficient with high-tech gadgets, disguises and - most prominently - high flying martial arts moves and fighting.

That said, the film comes off feeling like an estrogen-laced combination of James Bond, "Mission Impossible" and "The Matrix." While that's occasionally amusing and McG has made sure to use some sort of visual flair or effect in such scenes, they get a bit old after a while and their umpteenth use. That's especially true for the fight sequences.

While "The Matrix" wasn't the first film to use the martial arts, wire-fighting techniques (where the performers use wires to flip and somersault, etc. through the air in gravity-defying moves), it certainly popularized them for the mainstream moviegoers, just as it did with its "bullet time" shots (where we see highly stylized, slow motion close-ups of bullets in action). Since then, various films have poked fun at all of that. Although such footage here will inspire a chuckle or two, such mockery and/or homage feels late to the party and - despite being choreographed by Cheung-Yah Yuen, whose brother worked on "The Matrix" - it isn't as impressive as the "original" earlier work.

Nevertheless, McG and his stars inject enough exuberant "girl power" fun into the proceedings that such problems, along with the lack of a decent script or any semblance of three-dimensional characters, doesn't really matter that much, especially to the target audience. As was the case with the original cast members, the three young women here portray vastly different women, with Barrymore playing the sexy one, Liu the serious one and Diaz the bubbly one. While the roles certainly aren't that demanding from a thespian standpoint, the actresses seem to be having a blast playing such camp and the effect easily transfers to the audience.

For the "old timers" in the crowd, Bill Murray ("Rushmore," "Groundhog Day") has replaced David Doyle as the Bosley character and gets some good laughs with his "normal" incredulous, dead pan and feigned exasperated expressions. Sam Rockwell ("The Green Mile," "Galaxy Quest"), Kelly Lynch ("Drugstore Cowboy," "Heaven's Prisoners") and Tim Curry ("Home Alone 2," "The Rocky Horror Picture Show") are all okay in their barely developed, cartoon-like characters.

Meanwhile, George McFly, a.k.a. Crispin Glover ("Back to the Future," "River's Edge"), surprises everyone in the movie and the audience playing a mute, chain smoking hit man who often engages the Angels in some acrobatic martial arts fighting. Matt Leblanc ("Lost In Space," TV's "Friends"), Luke Wilson ("Blue Streak," "Committed") and Tom Green ("Road Trip," TV's "The Tom Green Show") also appear in what are basically extended cameos and don't really add much to the proceedings (except make the young girls in the audience swoon with delight since they know that Green is Barrymore's current significant other).

Overall, the film is certainly nothing short of stimulating to watch. If anything, and depending on your age, you may occasionally/often feel that it needs a sedative. Few scenes are calm, a blaring soundtrack - often filled with classic rock songs and/or angel-related tunes - seemingly plays nonstop and McG pulls out all the directorial stops, seemingly with every visual effect in his bag of tricks.

The end result, while clearly not for everyone's tastes, is a somewhat stupid and episodic film that's often fun to watch and does grow on you (despite it being another case of style over substance), simply due to the wacky and infectious exuberance that permeates the proceedings. Not great, but clearly entertaining for the right crowd and maybe even somewhat enjoyable for others, "Charlie's Angels" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 26, 2000 / Posted November 3, 2000

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