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The Real Powerpuff Girls

They're swift, sassy and music-driven. 'Charlie's Angels' also has the benefit of a big budget and a corps of writers.


"Charlie's Angels" is a potato chip of a movie. Tasty and lightweight, it's fine for a cinematic snack, if that's what you're looking for. Making it an entire meal, however, really isn't advisable.

Starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as "an elite crime-fighting unit backed by an anonymous millionaire" and based on a 1970s TV series that no one ever confused with "Masterpiece Theater," "Charlie's Angels" has morphed into a more entertaining movie than you might expect, especially compared with the fiasco that was "The Mod Squad."

For one thing, the film's writers, those who got credit (Ryan Rowe and Ed Solomon, and John August) plus the horde that apparently did not, have en masse studied the series' episodes with the zeal of PhD candidates in popular culture, peppering the script with tough questions like "Does he have any enemies?" and generic comments on the order of "This is where you come in, Angels," and "Angels, break it down."

This "Charlie's Angels" also has a definite sense of humor about what it's doing, practically a necessity for a venture of this type. Any picture having an opening sequence highlighting an in-flight film called "T.J. Hooker: The Movie" is not inany danger of taking itself too seriously.

"Angels," moreover, is the latest studio venture (is a kung fu remake of "Gilligan's Island" next?) to wholeheartedly embrace the glories of Hong Kong-style martial arts action. With James Bond stunts and fight scenes choreographed by Cheung-Yan Yuen (whose brother did the honors for "The Matrix"), "Charlie's Angels" understands that it's incumbent on films like this to really move.

Yet though all this is fun and engaging in short bursts (it does not come as a surprise that debuting director McG's previous work is in commercials and music videos), it wears thin and strains our patience when stretched to cover even this film's brief 92-minute length.

Part of the problem is that the insistent freneticism of this style of filmmaking flirts with overkill. Squeezing all that deadly kicking as well as some 40 songs ("Push the tempo" shouts one especially apt lyric) into so short a space is exhausting, a gimmicky letdown on a par with the director's three-letter name.

As in the TV show, the Angels never get to meet Charlie (voiced, as he was decades ago, by John Forsythe) and instead take their marching orders from the suave Bosley. Bill Murray, an actor who can make anything funny, has the role, and though action has never been counted as his forte, he is amusing as always.

The Angels are hired this time around by Vivian Wood (a convincing Kelly Lynch), whose boss, soft-wear entrepreneur Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell) has been brazenly kidnapped. The suspicion naturally falls on media kingpin Roger Corwin (Tim Curry) and a possible henchperson known only as Thin Man (Crispin Glover).

In addition to trying to sort out the implications of the crime--"you can imagine how dangerous it would be," someone says with a straight face, "if this got into the wrong hands"--the Angels have their love lives to deal with. Liu's Alex is involved with action star Jason (Matt LeBlanc), Diaz's Natalie is eyeing bartender Pete (Luke Wilson), while Barrymore's Dylan is embroiled with a forlorn sea captain named Chad (Tom Green, her real-life beau).


Some of these situations, as movie situations will, involve dialogue, but though adroit visually, McG has no gift for the spoken word and whenever characters talk for a minute or two, the film rolls over and plays dead. There are, after all, only so many times you can cut to tongue-in-cheek shots of one of the Angels rapturously tossing her hair.

The film also reaches into the past for its sexual politics, with mildly risque language (example: "My hands aren't going anywhere near your staff") going hand in hand, so to speak, with low-cut, tight-fighting costumes and more loving shots of well-built rear ends than a month of Dodge Truck commercials. No doubt this is what original executive producer Leonard Goldberg means when he says his show "may have been the beginning of the empowerment of women within popular culture."

Certainly empowered in terms of today's Hollywood (co-star Barrymore is a producer and one of the driving forces in getting the film made), the three actresses who play the Angels all seem to be having fun on screen. How well that translates depends on how much of an empty-calories mood you happen to be in.

* MPAA rating: PG-13 for action violence, innuendo and some sensuality/nudity. Times guidelines: much martial arts violence and almost as much leering.

'Charlie's Angels'

Cameron Diaz: Natalie

Drew Barrymore: Dylan

Lucy Liu: Alex

Bill Murray: Bosley

Sam Rockwell: Eric Knox

Kelly Lynch: Vivian Wood

A Leonard Goldberg/Flower Films/Tall Trees production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director McG. Producers Leonard Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen. Executive producers Betty Thomas, Jenno Topping, Joseph M. Caracciolo. Screenplay Ryan Rowe and Ed Solomon, and John August. Cinematographer Russell Carpenter. Editors Wayne Wahrman, Peter Teschner. Costumes Joseph G. Aulisi. Music Edward Shearmur. Production design J. Michael Riva. Art directors David F. Klassen, Richard F. Mays. Set decorator Lauri Gaffin. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

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