CHARLIE'S ANGELS

PG-13

-By David Noh


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How do you parody something that was already ridiculous enough to begin with? Well, the movie Charlie's Angels does a more than decent job, sending up the original jiggling, crime-stopping series with detailed affection and wry humor. Natalie (Cameron Diaz) is the ditsy blonde, Dylan (Drew Barrymore) is the versatile Everygirl and Alex (Lucy Liu) is the brainy one, with more than a whiff of the dragon lady about her. Using only their gorgeous noggins and awesome martial-arts skills, they combat the forces of evil as here represented by techno-tycoon Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell), uber-bitch Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch) and rival magnate Roger Corwin (Tim Curry). The only men they answer to are 'fourth Angel' Bosley (Bill Murray, at his driest and most relaxed) and, of course, the omniscient, unseen Charlie (once more, the now rather crusty 'voice of God'-John Forsythe).

As directed by McG, the film starts very high, with Dylan tumbling out of a plane before the eyes of passenger LL Cool J, who remarks about the inflight film being another 'dumb movie based on an old TV show.' The pacing and laughs never let up until the last quarter or so, when the high concept rather runs out of breath (and small wonder, as it's been frenetically pitched like an MTV video). McG loads the film with a mind-boggling number of high-speed chases and unnecessary explosions. What's amazing is how ripe the cornball material is for the most ironically smart-ass comedy. The Angels are hilarious as they officiously intone the high-tech jargon of their various capers: 'When you trip the external feedback circuit, the bomb will detonate'; 'It has a direct link to the Red Star mainframe,' etc. The editing of Peter Teschner and Wayne Wahrman is superb. Joseph G. Aulisi's costumes provide just the right exposure and amusingly disguise the stars as geishas, Tyrolean maids, belly dancers and racecar drivers. Music supervisor John Houlihan loads the delightful soundtrack with some of the most infectious pop songs of the last 30 years-'Barracuda,' 'Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,' 'Turning Japanese'-many of which deliciously comment on the action. The presence of TV veteran Betty Thomas as executive producer undoubtedly accounts for much of the farcical savviness.

All three stars are achingly sexy. Diaz again proves herself a skillful comedienne, in a surprising Carol Burnett-Ruth Buzzi goofball tradition. 'They don't call me 'Balls-out Natalie' for nothing!' she cheerily announces at one point. Her extended 'Soul Train' solo is a flat-out embarrassment, but, blessed with that mile-wide, face-crinkling grin of hers, it's purely irresistible. Barrymore has a truly angelic sweetness here, and hits every single satiric note dead-on. (Just the way she unzips her jumpsuit to reveal some very soft-porn cleavage is, as Stella Adler was once wont to say, a brilliant 'choice.') Liu does her best and is often effective, but, compared to her adorable cohorts, it often seems as if she wasn't let in on the joke. (She is a frighteningly authentic dominatrix in one scene, however.) The women have been given a posse of attractive beaus, which includes Luke Wilson and Matt LeBlanc. Tom Green and Crispin Glover add their own dementia to the mix.

--David Noh


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