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Charlie’s Angels (2000) [Review Re-View]

Originally released November 3, 2000:

These angels aren’t exactly what your father was enjoying when your mother was away fulfilling errands. These angels aren’t delegated as mere sex objects running around providing the jiggle entertainment that is (or was) supplied by today’s Baywatch. The 90s is a different decade after our minority movements and today’s woman is just as apt to do a flying kung-fu face plant into a baddie as any man. The angels of the film are action heroes for an armada of small girls needing some female empowerment when their only other choices consist of a barely clothed Britney or a barely covered Christina. These angels aren’t just the sex objects that the classic assortment of angelic 70s stars were; these angels are also tough-as-nails, resourceful, and not afraid to tussle or tango. Now that this exposition is out I can concentrate on the scattershot film Charlie’s Angels.

The film has been rumored to have at a minimum of 17 writers who tried shaping a story for Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Lui. The story is pretty much shelved toward the back so the forefront is our trio of ladies kicking ass then shaking it with zig-zaggy and wild camera movements from debut filmmaker and video director McG.

Charlie’s Angels is whiz-bang dumb fun. The overall feel of the film is something more difficult to get a grasp on. At times it shows itself as tongue-in-cheek and satirical but then at other times it seems overly serious or overly dumb. The characters are non-existent and basically only discernible by hair color. The characters are very wooden and I actually found more enjoyment watching the villains and seeing more of them; call it the Austin Powers dilemma. Diaz makes the only notable attempt as her goofy and light-hearted angel connects with the audience best. Lui plays a techno-babe dominatrix but is easy to see that she was the last angel chosen and doesn’t exactly gel with the others as much as she could have.

Charlie’s Angels is best when the action is pumping. The scenes are cut together in a jam-packing sequential way adding distinct flavor and style. McG is a true surprise in the effectiveness he can orchestrate his action motifs even if the Matrix effects and moves make absolutely no sense in the real world.

Crispin Glover shows himself as a silent assassin nicknamed “the thin creepy man.” Glover is so suave and slick in his role of the non-verbal Oddjob henchman role that he exhilarated me with every presence he made on screen. Goodness, he was too cool in this film and everyone gets brownie points for allowing him. He has such energy and charisma that I wanted the film to veer off into him and desert our angels. Seeing our ageless McFly perform action scenes and choreographed fights is something I will be pleased with until my grave. seeing Crispin in the excellent Nurse Betty and now huge exposure in this is a true joy. And man… he smokes a cigarette way too cool every time he’s in this film. Some people can smoke cool some of the time but Crispin does it all of the time. His mere presence almost cancels out the annoyance of Barrymore.

The line is drawn with Charlie’s Angels in that it’s sex-kitten jiggle and an acrobatic arrangement of (light) feminism and humor. These gals know they’re sex objects and they’ll use it to their advantage delighting in every second of it. Therefore, you could argue successfully that Angels is exploitation hiding as meaningful but hell… why think about this stuff? The movie rolls along at a fast pace where you don’t keep track of these issues. It’s just an easy sit down.

The gigantic success of Charlie’s Angels makes sequels and a possible franchise all but certain. I’d be happy for McG to hop back in his directorial chair but have a unique idea for Angels 2: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut… it involves Glover kicking a lot of ass really cool like.

Nate’s Grade: B-

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WRITER REFLECTIONS 20 YEARS LATER

The 2000 Charlie’s Angels seems to understand that nobody should take this seriously. It even opens with an in-joke of T.J. Hooker: The Movie being inflight entertainment and an undercover character lamenting how bankrupt Hollywood is when it comes to recycling old TV shows. From there, our undercover angel literally exits with her target in the middle of the air and plummets to the water below, safely landing via parachute with a team meeting via helicopter aerial hook-up and a speedboat below. Why any of this? What sense does any of it make? It doesn’t matter in the slightest, and from the opening scene onward the movie lives by this credo, doing its best to be silly and have fun and just not care about the rest, and it shows. Twenty years ago, I think Charlie’s Angels benefited from low expectations as I recall mostly enjoying it. Now, having re-watched the movie for the first time in ages, I will say the fizzy appeal seems to be diluted. It’s still got energy to spare, though it feels a little too antic, a little too episodic and slipshod, and a little too proudly shallow, and that’s before you re-examine its depiction of the angels.

It took 17 writers and considering every under-30 actress in Hollywood to put together Charlie’s Angels. Drew Barrymore had bought the remake rights and wanted to make a big screen splash with a trio of kick-ass heroines that could better relate to the culture of the new century. I understand that Barrymore and her team wanted the angels to be sexy, yes, but also smart and funny and goofy and fearsome and all the things that little girls should believe possible. That’s commendable from a positive representation, but then so much emphasis is placed on their bodies and their off-the-charts sex appeal to bamboozle men that the goal becomes eclipsed. One could argue that Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Lui are embracing their sexuality, and that taking control of this is empowering, and if you feel empowered by Charlie’s Angels, by all right enjoy that and bless you. However, twenty years later, this feels less like the girls are in charge are more like they’re just being exploited in a manner we’re being sold as new feminism.

There are so many examples where the angels are in skimpy clothing or objectified. There was an entire clip of Diaz dancing in her underwear that I remember Harry Knowles of the early 2000s mainstay Ain’t It Cool News devoted a gross drooling essay to his obsession (“But to sum up, Cameron Diaz’s Swirling Ass is one of the greatest images and objects in the whole of human existence.”). Barrymore’s character is constantly getting undressed and using her body to disarm men. Again, duping men through their hormones can be a key asset as a spy, but it’s happening in every scene and at her disservice as well. She tumbles down a ravine naked in a last-second escape, and the movie treats it as cheeky comedy (no pun intended). Lui adopts a series of disguises that routinely sexualize her, from a masseuse to the most overt, a domineering corporate boss that resembles a dominatrix. They’re straight fetish roles. I’m surprised a Catholic schoolgirl outfit wasn’t adopted as a disguise. The movie’s depiction of its female stars and the emphasis on their bodies feels retrograde for its ideals. I know they wanted to improve upon the portrayals from the 1970s but we still got problems. McG’s stylish direction prioritizes the angels’ sexuality. They can be smart and kick ass but also in a sexy way, the movie is telling you. Thandie Newton was supposed to be an angel but schedule overruns from Mission: Impossible II got in the way, and later she admitted she had strong misgivings because her character was going to be introduced with a closeup of her denim-clad butt. No one is arguing that women should be barred from taking ownership of their sensuality, but the lens Charlie’s Angels utilizes is strictly a male gaze, and these women are repeatedly objectified.

As a result, the movie has a new sheen of discomfort during all the silly, sudsy spy missions and wardrobe changes. Before you might think, “Oh look, they’re dressing up as Japanese geisha girls, what fun,” and now you’re like, “Oh, somebody at the studio was getting off on this.” Before you might think, “Oh look, they’re dressing up as Middle Eastern belly dancers, what fun,” and now you’re like, “Oh, somebody at the studio was getting off on this.” There are a lot of ethnic disguises that would likely get axed today as cultural appropriation. The carefree, frivolous attitude of the movie is meant to be charming and low stakes, but when it’s applied to the exploitative nature of how the women are depicted, it all becomes a bit dodgier to accept.

This was the first real blockbuster after The Matrix reshaped action cinema and the stylish choices can run the gamut between exciting and cool to dated and shallow. Twenty years later, it’s just not as impressive that they used wires to swing their actors around for stunt choreography, or that they replicated key Matrix touches like bullet time. The fighting sequences are often choppy in editing and some of the moves meant to demonstrate the power of the angels just feel silly, like a moment where Diaz went full Lui Kang with her flying kicking feet. It’s moments like that where the style gets away from McG. The tonal trick is finding a balance between goofy and cool, exciting and cheesy, and I don’t think the movie achieves this with its action. The set pieces feel built around “cool moments” rather than using geography, organic complications, and escalation. It means that Charlie’s Angels has its share of cool moments but then they are fleeting and ultimately meaningless because they don’t better connect to character, story, or even simply their own satisfying action compositions. It’s like immediately disintegrating cotton candy. The dozens and dozens and dozens of needle-drop music cues feel like another potent example of this charge as well as some anticipated attempt to distract from its shallow and diverting design.

I was dreading revisiting my original review as an 18-year-old because I was convinced my younger self was going to conflate the portrayal of the women as taking ownership. I just knew this would be something I had bought into in 2000, and yet it wasn’t quite so: “The line is drawn with Charlie’s Angels in that it’s sex-kitten jiggle and an acrobatic arrangement of (light) feminism and humor. These gals know they’re sex objects and they’ll use it to their advantage delighting in every second of it. Therefore, you could argue successfully that Angels is exploitation hiding as meaningful but hell… why think about this stuff? The movie rolls along at a fast pace where you don’t keep track of these issues. It’s just an easy sit down.” Hooray for my younger self seeing through this movie’s sheen of empowerment. At the time, it bothered me less because the movie was dumb fun, and now it just seems less fun and also dumber. I was so taken with Crispin Glover (Back to the Future) and his creepy cool style, much of which was Glover’s doing. His character was supposed to have dialogue except he hated the lines and asked to be silent. That’s one way out of memorizing, and it worked because he was a breakout and appeared in the 2003 sequel. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) was also a fun discovery though he only gets good once he’s revealed as a baddie. He would reuse those dancing moves for Iron Man 2.

By the time 2003’s sequel Full Throttle rolled out, the appeal was gone. In my own brief review, I summarized, “It all seems so ho-hum and excessive at the same time. Quite an accomplishment. No more please.” I feel like the 2000 film also falls into this summary. It’s clearly not intending to be anything more than a goofy action movie, and I suppose the right person could still likely turn off the necessary parts of their brain to enjoy the rush of sights, sounds, and cleavage. There shouldn’t be a “wrong kind of feminism” so if this works for you, great. Many years later I felt that the male gaze was more ogling the women in the name of celebrating them. And yet Sony still felt there was material to be mined when they tried again with a failed 2019 reboot. The original Charlie’s Angels film is a cocktail of style with a creeping hangover right behind.

Re-Veiw Grade: C

S.W.A.T. (2003)

Hey, I got an idea, let’s spend 2/3 of our movie building characters no one cares about, and then we’ll let something action-y happen in the last act? What could possibly go wrong? I got an even better idea, let’s bring along Michelle Rodriguez as a, get this, tough girl cop. Oh yeah, and we need some Samuel L. Jackson too. And let’s have the bad guy be French, since no one likes them right now anyway. Brilliant.

Nate’s Grade: C

Rollerball (2002)

The year is 2005 and the number one sport, at least in the former Soviet Union for some reason, is a mixture of roller derby, football and some kind of ESPN X-game. The man behind Rollerball is Alexi Petrovich (Jean Reno), who still thirsts for that lucrative cable contract with the U.S. and just might do anything to get it. Play suspicious music here.

Jonathan Cross (Chris Klein) is an NHL draft pick in trouble with the law after a stupid high speed street race. His pal Marcus Ridley (LL Cool J) tells him of a new extreme sport catching on in Central Asia, and Jonathan accepts his offer. The two are enjoying their success in Spandex but start to have reservations when they notice Petrovich including more violence as a ratings booster. Jonathan can’t just look the other way. Because he’s the good guy. So after a botched escape (shot infuriatingly all in what seems like night vision green) he collects his fellow ballers to rebel against Petrovich and whatever. As you can easily see, the story of Rollerball is not exactly its strong point. Not that there is a strong point in Rollerball.

The original Rollerball came out in 1975 and was full of political themes like corporate dictatorships and Orwellian observations on a dominated, passive society where war and nationalism have been replaced with a roller sport. Though the themes of this James Caan vehicle were a bit heavy-handed at times, the action was rather impressive especially as the corporations try their best to squash Caan in a bloody onslaught of an ending. The 1975 Rollerball had a political message and some nice action. What does the 2002 version have? Try banality and plenty of it.

Klein is possibly the blandest action hero since Ralph Macchio tried to wax a car. Klein came to the limelight through movies like American Pie and Election, and if his dimwitted deer-in-headlights look wasn’t doing it for you before then God help you with his performance in Rollerball.

Rebecca Romijn-Stamos plays Klein’s teammate and lover on the Rollerball circuit. He tells her at one point that her face isn’t as bad as she feels (she has a scar over one eye but still looks mighty attractive), proving Klein has indeed seen her blue-nude performance in X-Men. Reno deserves a trophy for even delivering the majority of his lines with a straight face.

Oh how the mighty have fallen John McTiernan. You once directed such great 80s action movies like Die Hard, The Hunt for the Red October, and Predator but now you spend your days remaking old Norman Jewison films. It began with the lukewarm remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and now a boring re-cooking of Rollerball follows it up. Can a remake of F.I.S.T. or Fiddler on the Roof be the only thing we have to look forward to now?

The most jarring problem with Rollerball, and there are so many to choose from, is the hack editing choices made. The way the movie plays one wonders if they threw all their footage in a wood chipper and grabbed whatever pieces they could and glued them into a movie. Scenes exist but appear in no discernible pattern or order. All one sees in their chair is a whirl of colors and you might be wondering if you stepped into Kaleidoscope: The Motion Picture.

The story behind this Rollerball was that it was originally slated to come out August of 2001 but after test screenings that left people howling the studio bumped it to the winter and cut it from an R to a more commercial PG-13. Lost in this cost-cutting maneuver are gore (which you would think would be important for a violent future gladiator sport) and a nude scene involving Romijn-Stamos. Which version would you have rather seen?

Rollerball is a laughably noisy and empty film that will leave your head spinning for all the wrong reasons. It’s likely the worst flick you’ll see for 2002 right now, that is, until the following week when Britney’s near-certain train wreck of a film debut opens. But until that time Rollerball is the true champion – of boredom and stupidity.

Nate’s Grade: D

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Oliver Stone is a seamstress of visuals and visceral noise. Any Given Sunday is perfect as he delves into the professional world of football and how it becomes a dance of testosterone and fury. But after awhile all the audience feels is a pounding and a ringing in its ears.

The biggest stumbling block may actually be its focal point – there’s too much football! The games last as long as actual games and there are multiple games through out. Though Stone captures the essence nicely that these spandex-clad athletes are the gladiators of today playing in a ballet of chaos, he just throws too many jangled cuts, quick shots, and extreme angles flashing around to hyper-decibel soundtrack fodder. After a while the viewer becomes dizzied by the rush of noise and flash of lights buzzing around their precious skull. It’s enough to cause a concussion simply from watching.

]Most of the action in Any Given Sunday actually happens off the field with some meaty drama delivered by multiple players. Stone focuses in on the people behind the catches and blocks and how the game can control or transform their lives. Finally a drawn-out story that covers football with respect. Diaz and Pacino get into screaming matches for roughly most of the movie, but it’s exciting to see two great actors throw the acting medicine ball back and forth trying to out-duel the one before. The supporting characters all have stories suitable to the game and interesting enough to warrant attention. Jaime Foxx has a nonchalant magnetism that keeps the audience pulling for him even after he vomits for the third time on camera.

Stone lets the viewer into the game of football in a manner truthful yet exaggerated. But with all the whiz-bang he throws out in Any Given Sunday one can’t help but have wished for more constraint in the excess and more minutes for the drama in between.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

So what if the movie is crammed with one-note cardboard characters that double as stereotypes and other reliable characters in the action world? So what if the script was most likely written on the back of a bar napkin in between showings of Jaws on TNT? So what if the movie is helmed by Mr. ex-Geena Davis with a track record of box office losses always following him? So what? And so what if the best acting in the movie is from animatronic sharks? Because despite all these things the movie is pure fun.

The movie actually offers some genuine thrills and suspense. It’s easy to just pigeonhole the movie as another Jaws rip-off, but it’s more of a sweet homage than any blatant rip-off. Deep Blue Sea never seems to take itself seriously and actually seems to revel in the cheese it wallows in.

Despite the fact that the sharks still look like they were created out of Jim Henson’s Muppet workshop, they do come off as believable. The story isn’t even worth printing because it’s all one giant excuse to somehow pose dangerous situations to our crew. It’s all purely corny but it’s just too much fun.

Deep Blue Sea shouldn’t be thought heavily upon because all the movie is at it’s heart is big dumb fun. Don’t try and analyze it above the thrills you get in your seat, you might hurt yourself. At least there’s one movie that’s out that you can just sit and have fun with.

Nate’s Grade: B

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