Charlie’s Angels (2000)

3 out of 5

Directed by: McG

I started watching the Charlie’s Angels sequel, Full Throttle, and was rather gobsmacked at its shell of a structure, ADD nonsense plot, and oddly goofy – but somewhat poorly handled – humor. I remember not thinking much of Full Throttle when it came out, admittedly (I only watched it then – and was trying to rewatch it now – due to the Bruce Willis cameo), but this was more empty-headed and more slapsticky than I recalled; was the first one like this?

My memories of the first one: that it had an approved theater viewing by my parents, and my subsequent cable viewings went down easy – that it was stylish, popcorn stuff. That memory remains pretty accurate: the unfunny and forced humor in the sequel maintained a dad-humored tang in this flick that I can imagine worked well for ma and pa, and while having a director nicknamed McG was never cool, he applied his music video sensibilities well in this debut flick, which, premiering in 2000, was just on the ebb of an explosion of massive CG spectacles in 2001 – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings – and the stylistic influential Ocean’s 11. By the time of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, we’d see both of these movie movement have a big effect on what was being brought to the screen, and it’s interesting watching CA now and viewing it as a rather restrained affair in retrospect.

The plot… isn’t nonsense, interestingly, with our updated Angels – Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, and Cameron Diaz – given one-word personality types of the tuff one, the fighty one, and the ditzy one, that each actress then manages to rather entertainingly flesh out with their respective performance, taking on an espionage case that has them following clues that successfully tie the other key members of their agency – the unseen Charlie, and their Charlie-contactor Bosley (Bill Murray) – into the story. Er, rather, the plot is nonsense, of course, constructed of excuses to get the Angels into various outfits and action scenes and interact with guest stars, but it does a good job of juggling the light comedy with pretty well-choreographed and shot wirework and stunts with the girls’ and Murray’s tomfoolery and chitchat with just enough dialogue and pauses to make me able to actually follow the story… which is very often not the case with fluff of this type. That is: normally you can look away and look back fifteen minutes later and whatever has occurred hardly matters, but Charlie’s Angels puts on a good show of making the various vignettes at least seem like they matter.

The fact that Murray puts in a funny performance is telling as well: that there’s good comedic energy throughout, with our main three stars rather killing it with charm.

That said, this is a couple decades before the representation of women in film would have a bit more modernized reckoning, and so there’s quite a bit of “strong women” dealings in Charlie’s Angels, i.e. the chicks get top billing but are still in bathing suits and shaking their rumps. Would this be made this way nowadays? I’m not sure, but I’m actually interested to watch the 2019 sequel to see what it looks like in comparison.

Charlie’s Angels is silly, and can’t let more than a few minutes pass by without some top 10 track (Korn??) blaring while people dance or fight or whatnot. But director McG, some years before learning all the wrong lessons of either trying to be too flashy or too heavy-handed, shoots this stuff like a stage show, with big pans up and down and lots of bright lights blasting cinematographer Russell Carpenter’s buoyant color schemes to the max. Also, being a year or two before CG would become the go-to for spectacle, the fisticuffs are often mostly practical, and pretty well executed. It’s a movie that knows what it is, and is okay with it, and I guess I am too.