Sometimes even a reviled filmmaker finds the perfect material to create an entertaining movie, or at least the perfect distraction to keep him away from other, more delicate material less likely to survive his touch. In retrospect, such is the case with erstwhile music video director McG and the film version of Charlie’s Angels. McG’s weaknesses are legion: he treats entertainment as an act of kitschy self-satisfaction; he cribs from a variety of sources without offering his own point of view; said point of view, if ever expressed, may involve the awesomeness of the band Sugar Ray; and rather than actually scoring a movie to a pop song a la Scorsese or Danny Boyle or any number of others, he pumps familiar songs into the background of the soundtrack like a fratboy extolling his love of Journey at a bar.
Yet McG’s version of Charlie’s Angels was refreshing when it was released in 2000 and, like so many high-octane fast-burning blockbusters, feels sort of quaint and harmless today, as it turns up on Blu-Ray. On the heels of the overblown Mission: Impossible II, released that same year, Charlie’s Angels detonated the megabudget TV-adaptation lark and glued it back into something fun: a weightless series of dress-ups, undress-ups, and hair-flips.
The aggressive vacuousness and faux-ironic posing of a typical McG music video are neutralized by his stars: Drew Barrymore (the tough one!), Cameron Diaz (the flighty one!), and Lucy Liu (the rich girl, I guess, although she reads almost exclusively as: the Asian one!) have rarely been more movie-star charming, and the movie basks in their goofy kinship. Rather than spoil these good feelings with gun-toting himbo love interests, the filmmakers surround the Angels with a cast of male eccentrics: Bill Murray as the girls’ handler Bosley, dancing Sam Rockwell as a love interest slash villain, and a stylized silent-movie version of Crispin Glover as a henchman slash insane person. All of them, in fact, seem kind of crazy; the most grounded male presence is Luke Wilson, playing a sweet dork matched to Diaz.
The story is one that holds together surprisingly well when you consider that as many as 30 writers were involved and, moreover, you can’t really recall what happened once it’s over. It’s more of an assemblage than a plot, but with opening credits featuring funny, phony clips from past Angels adventures and closing credits featuring actual outtakes from the actual movie, the assembling makes sense.
Anyway, for some directors, assembling is an art form. In the commentary track for the DVD, reproduced here, McG reveals himself as a junk-cultural sponge, referring to music videos, Star Wars, John Hughes, Asian cinema, and so on, without Quentin Tarantino’s inventive synthesis and gift for tension. The filmmaking itself often isn’t bad, however, with a smooth show-offy camera sense and even the occasional long take. The images may be relatively empty, but they don’t often reach editing overdrive. He happily alludes to some of the patchwork needed to put this movie together, and even makes mention of the “passionate conversations” that occurred on-set between Liu and Murray (the latter conspicuously absent from the sequel, and even some key scenes of the original).
The disc also includes a variety of behind-the-scenes materials, especially covering the stunts and effects of the movie’s occasional bursts into action. In the context of both the grittiness of the Bourne series and the strides made even in cartoon-world special effects, the action of Charlie’s Angels feels more like a jape than ever; Blu-Ray accentuates this fakeness and intensifies the movie’s considerable cheese factor.
The movie is at its best when it resembles a musical with trendy wire-fu in place of singing. In these moments, the film acts as sort of a late-‘90s time capsule, particularly in its use of the jittery slow-mo/speed-up action choreography and pin-up feminism; it’s The Matrix meets Spice World. It’s also McG’s calling, and it may be awhile before he finds another franchise so suited to channel-flipping and neon-green grass.