Charlie’s Angels (2000)

Drew is a barroom fighter. Cameron is very elegant, she’s very fast with her kicks and her spins and everything else. And Lucy is a mixture of the two.
— Vic Armstrong, Stunt Coordinator

“The fight! Wow,” enthuses McG. “Can you imagine Drew and Cameron and Lucy fighting in this capacity? It would be so sexy! It would be so exciting! This is what we gotta do. We gotta do this!” McG, the “dervish” of a director, is almost painfully enthusiastic in describing his utter love and devotion to Charlie’s Angels. And, as told by the interviewees assembled for the background documentaries on Columbia’s new Superbit DVD, the guy’s energy is hard to resist. (That said, fight choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen maintains a certain reserve in his translated comments, as does Bill Murray in his repeated observation, untranslated, that McG will tell the movie frame by frame to anyone he might run into — relentlessly.)

The DVD’s 27 May release is timed as part of the promotional barrage for the sequel, due to hit theaters 27 June. To that end, it includes a trailer highlighting the stunts and cute outfits, not quite so clever — or long — as the Ass Coordinator Featurette that aired as part of MTV’s 2003 Movie Awards.

The featurettes on the DVD (actually, on a second disc) offer what you’d expect. Their titles are self-explanatory: “Welcome to Angel World,” “Angelic Effects,” “Wired Angels, “Angelic Attire, “Outtakes and Bloopers” (the minimalist version, set to Blink 182’s “All the Small Things”), and music videos (“Independent Women Part 1” by Destiny’s Child and “Charlie’s Angels 2000” by Apollo Four Forty). You can also “Shop the Scene” on line, check an animated version of the Angels, and play the Angels Game. “Getting G’d Up” underlines that everyone loves the fervent director. The man himself smiles big: “We wanted to take every element of filmmaking and just turn it to 11.” And DP Russell Carpenter says, “He told me this isn’t reality, this is Angel World. And they have this bubble around them that’s a very colorful world.” Oh yes, it is.

“The Angels and the Master” has the girls — Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore — testify to the three months of training and conditioning they endured, and how happy they were to manage some wirework. As McG observes, they were “really put through the ringer.” To which Cheung-Yan Yuen adds, “In Chinese, it’s called ‘eating bitterness,’ which means, go through pain, be tough, be strong. And they were willing to eat the bitterness.” Yay Angels.

All this by way of leading to and from the movie proper, on disc one. And here you might relive what caused all this ruckus, including Drew moonwalking to “Billie Jean.” As Dylan, the troubled-tough-girl member of this big screen version of Charlie’s famous tv jiggle squad, Barrymore brings her usual energy and edge, as well as her Hollywood-veteran’s muscle (she co-produced the movie with her Flower Films partner Nancy Juvonen).

She also brings her signature good humor (as demonstrated in her frankly terrible moonwalk), her ex-boyfriend (Luke Wilson, playing a very pleasant bartender), and Tom Green, playing Dylan’s tugboat captain boyfriend, Chad (how sad to see this lovely interaction now, knowing they have since split up). Or, as Chad refers to himself, “The Chad,” as in his plaintive query when she departs abruptly after receiving a mysterious phone call: worried that she’s leaving him because of his own poor performance, Chad whines, “Was it The Chad?”

Of course, the reason for her departure is not The Chad, it’s The Charlie (John Forsythe repeating his invisible man role from the tv series), calling on His Angels to perform yet another impossible mission. Red-tressed Dylan’s partners in derring-do are blond Natalie (Diaz) and raven-haired Alex (Liu), each useful in her own way. Sweet Nat’s a bit dingy; brainy Alex tends to be stern and Sabrina-ish; and Dylan, well, she’s just an archetypal bad girl. In her introductory flashback, she looks sweetly surly in her prison uniform.

All the Angels kick and karate chop like nobody’s business, and all are remarkably adept with their many high tech gadgets (minus guns: the Angels adamantly and politically work without them). A preliminary mini-escapade establishes their supreme in-chargeness, not to mention their extraordinary fashion sense. They’re tracking a villain who’s on his way out of town with his stolen goods, seated on a plane – unfortunately for him – next to the imposing LL Cool J (and if you’ve seen the trailer, you know good sport LL is really playing a Mission Impossible-ish disguise for one of the girls). The Angels proceed to get the crook off the plane and take plummeting through the atmosphere sans parachutes (in a sleek black jumpsuit, Alex shoots through the air like a human bullet), and then land him in a speedboat, driven by a radiant, bikini-clad Natalie.

The movie is full of such James Bondish excitement, as well as elaborate martial arts, well-cast supporting players (including Bill Murray as Bosley and Crispin Glover as the sinister Thin Man), and adorable girl-bonding. So what if the actual plot is ridiculous in conception and most of its execution? The basics go something like this: a stereotypically wussy software billionaire, Eric (the ingenious Sam Rockwell), has been kidnapped, and his company’s shady president, Vivian (Kelly Lynch), hires the Charles Townsend Agency to retrieve him, along with some stolen secret voice-identification software, which, in the wrong hands, will surely cause worldwide destruction.

Charlie sends the Angels after a nefarious and charismatic suspect, Roger (Tim Curry). While undercover at a swank party, the Angels spot Thin Man (who apparently works for Corwin) and chase him down a back stairway, tossing their girly garments as they go, so that by the time they catch Thin Man and engage in the inevitable tussle, they’re wearing appropriately audacious black leather and spandex. Ready for another spectacular action scene! They retrieve Knox, go after the software, find themselves betrayed and fight their way out of a carefully orchestrated situation, so that each Angel has her very own nemesis to beat down, the most fun bit being Barrymore outsmarting a slew of cocky brutes, using the chair she’s tied to as a weapon.

Directed by McG (who co-created my favorite new series of last year, Fastlane), the film maintains a good-natured, nonsensical speediness while skipping blithely over its narrative voids. And this is a reasonable strategy for a po-mo sample movie, borrowing liberally from various sources, including a house where Dylan (naked and running for her life) must seek refuge, surprising two young boys watching TV (this is the very house where 8-year-old Drew filmed E.T. so long ago).

As pleasant as it is to watch a movie that’s so clever and cheerily ironic, it might be worth asking what’s at stake for the Angels in 2000. Are they ass-kicking role models, Nokia spokesmodels, or what? On her press campaign for the movie, Barrymore has developed her own definitional mantra: the Angels are capable as well as beautiful, they’re not afraid to flip their hair. Like their TV predecessors, these girls are proudly self-parodic, with more expensive FX. They’re self-mocking superheroes, like the Spice Girls with martial arts training, pumped up on attitude and self-appreciation.

The totally in-love and grateful look on Tom Green’s face at this moment is almost worth the price of admission.) You could say that the Angels are the exemplary non-threatening, multi-culti millennial-year poster girls. As much as they’re obviously making fun of the familiar sexed-up conventions they embody, they also don’t appear to be conceding much ground on the “chicks-can-do-it-too” front. They can look as fine as Keanu Reeves flying through digital air with legs swinging (and Diaz can play white as easily as Reeves), and their jokes are as preemptive as the next guy’s (our non-man LL groans when he sees T. J. Hooker, The Movie on the plane).

What’s more, the Angels are quite hip to their own socio-political environment. Their angelic perkiness is most often underlined by completely bubbly soundtrack choices, including “Angel in the Morning” and Destiny’s Child’s anthemic “Independent Women (Part 1).” A couple of songs are manifestly aggressive choices: Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says” and Prodigy’s once-controversial “Smack My Bitch Up” during a fight scene with the Thin Man. Smacking your bitch up needn’t be cause for uproar when the surface is all that’s available. This is Charlie’s Angels‘ most pleasurable insight: eventually, everything that might once be deemed offensive is grist for the mainstream mill.