I am in favour of almost every kind of cinematic hybrid, but the latest genre of cartoonish-action-film seems like a contradiction in terms. Cartoon artifice precludes knuckle-biting involvement; gags undermine action thrills.
Charlie's Angels does not solve these problems. Director McG seems mainly fixed upon providing martial arts fight scenes rendered in that annoying variable-motion (or speed ramping) technique beloved of current TV commercials. That, and an endless parody of the short of shampoo-commercial showing-off of his leading ladies in ceaseless motion.
If you have seen the promotional clips for the movie on TV or in trailers, you have truly seen the best of what it has to offer. Too often, a great central image – such as Diaz jiggling uninhibitedly on a 'Soul Train' stage – leads only to a weakly plotted and staged incident.
It’s not Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), which completely mocks every last token of narrative plausibility and conventional audience involvement. Nor is it a decent, conventional action movie.
On many levels, in fact, Charlie's Angels is vastly inferior to yet another TV remake that is far more coherent, sustained and cannily stylised: the much-derided The Avengers (1998).
These days, university courses in cultural studies like to suggest that excess and spectacle have taken precedence over old-fashioned virtues of plot, theme and character in popular cinema. Charlie's Angels shows the dead-end of this idea. The film has a thousand scattershot, screwball notions, but no real élan. It is like a fairground without an entrance point for customers.
The most fascinating aspect of this out-of-control carnival is its comparative depictions of women and men. Barrymore (who also co-produced), Diaz and Liu are at the peak of their physical strength and attractiveness.
But shambling Bill Murray, snarling Tim Curry, demonic Crispin Glover, '80s throwback Sam Rockwell and nerd Tom Green … these guys constitute a rather pathetic gallery of modern manhood. Perhaps a trifle masochistically, I found this aspect a lot of fun.
© Adrian Martin November 2000