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CHARLIE'S ANGELS

by: Scott Renshaw

Charlie's Angels is the sort of marvelously out-of-control Hollywood contraption that can turn any critic into Joe Bob Briggs. Let's tally up the contents: Bill Murray in a sumo fat-suit. Cameron Diaz's cleavage. Beyond-the-valley-of-The Matrix martial arts wire work. Drew Barrymore's cleavage. Obscenely huge explosions. Crispin Glover as a mute assassin with sculpted eyebrows and a fetish for clumps of torn-out hair. More of Drew Barrymore's cleavage. Tom Green extended cameo. Matt LeBlanc extended cameo. Cameron Diaz in a white Lycra bodysuit. Lucy Liu playing corporate trainer/dominatrix. Every cheesy song ever recorded between 1974 and 1984 with the word "angel" in the title. And one pygmy nuthatch.

By any reasonable filmmaking standard, Charlie's Angels is a mess, a bizarre attempt to mix '70s cheesecake with '00s computer-enhanced James Bond-ian action. It's infuriating not to be able to shred it to ribbons for being the geek-boy fantasy it clearly was meant to be, but there's just too much wild amusement here to dismiss. Welcome to a world where a trio of brilliant, kung fu fightin', babealicious private detectives -- Natalie (Diaz), Dylan (Barrymore) and Alex (Liu) -- do the bidding of anonymous, never seen benefactor Charles Townsend. They have been hired to find out who was behind the kidnapping of software genius Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell), and their mission (ostensibly) is to retrieve Knox and his cutting-edge voice-recognition technology from competitor Roger Corwin (Tim Curry). In fact, their mission is to induce endocrine overload in viewers who can't get enough of hot chicks doing spinning kicks through the air while wearing curve-hugging clothing.

There's no point getting too cerebral about Charlie's Angels. In fact, if you do decide to see it, it would be wise to check under your seat as you leave to make sure your mind hasn't leaked out of your ear into a puddle on the floor. Sure, there are the requisite self-aware nudges to show that it knows not to be taken seriously -- a reference to T. J. Hooker: The Movie, a gag about overwrought action film acting, etc. -- but it still keeps up a frantic pace so you won't notice how awkwardly made it is. Certain action sequences are chopped short, character-building sub-plots stall the film in place and the tone shifts abruptly from moment to moment. Whatever 21st century spin the folks involved might want to put on this version of Charlie's Angels, it's still all about the T&A -- whether it stands for technique & attitude, or something slightly more crude.

All that said, it's still more fun than Mission: Impossible 2, or The World Is Not Enough, or virtually any other recent high-tech caper you'd care to name. Part of it is how unabashedly over-the-top it all is, from the physics-defying fight sequences to the megaton explosions. Part of it is the way the comic relief actually provides comedy, including Bill Murrays' inimitable Bill Murray-ness and Cameron Diaz getting into her ditzy side. Part of it is the strange appeal of watching a film that lets women be the James Bonds (including the unapologetic casual sex), and comes up with better villains than the Bond series has had for some time (dig that Crispin Glover!). And yes, a whole lot of it is how it pulls off the neat trick of sending up the series' hair-flipping jiggle appeal while still taking advantage of it.

Do all the pieces of Charlie's Angels add up to slick movie-making? No. In fact, rookie feature film director McG clearly has a lot to learn about elements beyond slow-motion and near-subliminal edits. He does, however, have a game cast, a competent script, some awesome fight choreography and a refusal to take anything too seriously. This ain't art, but it ain't the kind of tediously predictable big-budget garbage you usually find at your multiplex, either. This is movie-making heavy on the Drew Barry

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