Pay attention to the woman in the long, flowing robes who serves as an icon for Columbia Pictures, shown just before “Charlie’s Angels” starts. It’s the last image of female dignity you’ll see for another hour and a half.
“Charlie’s Angels” does what “The Brady Bunch Movie” did in 1995, in that it brings to the big screen whatever good things the TV show had to offer, and openly mocks all the bad things. Where most films based on TV shows are too reverential toward the source material, trying to re-create everything exactly without regard for whether it will still be entertaining now, “Charlie’s Angels” freely updates the series, taking the ’70s elements that don’t make sense in the ’00s and making fun of them.
Sure, the beauties who work secretly for the Charles Townsend Detective Agency still stop to flip their hair sexily every now and then. But when they do it now, it’s in slow-motion, and at ridiculous moments. Remember all the goofy disguises the girls would use in the TV show? They use them here, too, but to ridiculous extremes (at one point, someone is disguised as a large black man).
In other words, where the TV show was cheesy and stupid apparently unintentionally, the movie is cheesy and stupid with gleeful deliberateness.
Drew Barrymore is type-cast as Dylan, the sleazy Angel who sleeps around. Cameron Diaz is type-cast as the somewhat ditzy (OK, they’re all ditzy) Natalie, who pauses during hand-to-hand combat to take a cell-phone call from her boyfriend. Lucy Liu is type-cast as the strong Alex, who has all the brains in the operation. And Bill Murray — never more delightfully smarmy than he is here, in the role he was born to play — is type-cast as Bosley, the Angels’ direct supervisor and liaison with their unseen boss (voice of John Forsythe).
The plot is exactly as shallow and predictable as your basic hour-long TV crime drama. Software whiz Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell) has been kidnapped, and his voice-identification project is gone with him. The likely suspect is his rival, Roger Corwin (Tim Curry — another case of great casting), though one mustn’t rule out his partner, Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch).
The Angels wear outrageous disguises, plan elaborate schemes and do “Matrix”-style fist-fighting with bad guys like the fantastically weird-faced Crispin Glover (ANOTHER case of great casting), ultimately saving the day and leaving room for a sequel.
For once, this is a movie that knows how to do campy humor. It’s not enough just to make fun of the show; that would turn into nothing but a series of “Saturday Night Live” parodies, which indeed this film does occasionally resemble. You have to mix in some regular humor now and then (leave that to Bill Murray), a few references to other movies (the “Mission: Impossible” films come to mind), and stay over-the-top at all times. Never let the audience think even for a second that you aren’t completely aware of how dumb you’re being. If they ever start laughing at you, rather than with you, you’ve lost.
“Charlie’s Angels” wins — stupidly, senselessly, ridiculously, yeah, but at least it knows it has those qualities and embraces them with great, witty enthusiasm. At last, a movie based on a TV show that actually gets things right.
B+ (; )