Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Reason The 70s Ought To Remain Behind Us: Charlie's Angels

The Good: Moments of special effects, Drew Barrymore, T&A.
The Bad: Plot, Hollywood look, Script, Dated feel
The Basics: A slick, glossy film supposed to enforce the strength and intelligence of women, Charlie's Angels falls flat by being obvious, unnecessary and a throwback to the seventies.

I'll start off by saying I've grown to like Drew Barrymore as an actress, if for nothing else than the balance she brings to the screen in most films she's in. The typical Hollywood film is populated by women who weigh about ten pounds, have big pouty lips, are made up in such a way as to accent their breasts, butt and hair. That's not to say that Drew Barrymore in Charlie's Angels doesn't capitalize on her t&a, which she does. But, at least she doesn't have the typical Hollywood anorexic look. That look has begun to seriously bother me.

So, what to expect from Charlie's Angels? There are three women, working for a mysterious benefactor named Charlie through a man named Bosley. The quartet receives calls from Charlie with missions, like James Bond, save we never see M. In fact, while Bond films have become formulaic and predictable (the first few were innovating the genre), Charlie's Angels begins there, using pretty much all of the established plot tools of the action/adventure/spy flick genre.

So, after an opening that involves an annoying number of slow motion shots of Lucy Liu's hair waving in the wind, the team of Angels is assembled for a mission. It turns out software genius Eric Knox has been kidnaped by satellite hardware giant Roger Corwin. Natalie, Dylan, and Alex must rescue Knox and in the process, they gain access to Corwin's network. Corwin is defended by - and the Angels are plagued by - The Thin Man. He's a martial arts expert who has a sword and basically fights like a villain from The Matrix. Well, that's fine, because so do the Angels. It becomes quickly apparent, that the kidnapping is not what it seems and the Angels, nor their employer, are safe.

What works in the film is actually a good amount of character. There were enough character details fit in to give each Angel some distinctive traits. The problem is that with some of these details, things don't come out right all the time. For instance, Dylan is alluded to as a Scrabble player, yet given the opportunity to play, she never takes it. So the explicit statement that she likes scrabble appears as somewhat added or forced. Moreover, as facts come together in the end as to what the real plot is, it seems like the Angels have overlapped in character traits. Alex, for instance, gains the strength and martial arts skill of the whole team combined holding off The Thin Man when before it took all three simply to hold their own.

What fails on the character level is the lack of genuine human emotions. Dylan shows excellent feelings of need for a father figure throughout, yet doesn't illustrate any real feeling over the deep betrayal that occurs to her in the course of the film. Alex never becomes emotionally accessible to the man in her life and Natalie seems especially needy up until the end, when she seems uncharacteristically detached.

There are many special effects that work as well. Some items, like the slow motion bullet a la The Matrix, are executed well enough. Most of the fighting sequences are choreographed well. Some of the moments don't even feel like choreographed moves. But even the special effects aren't consistently good. An especially annoying bit is when a building explodes in front of the angels, there's actually a noticeable gap where the explosion begins and then the special effects sequence takes over. There is extraordinarily bad editing in the race car scene wherein there are a series of quick cuts that are more distracting and headache inducing than actually engaging. And my final note on the effects is that with all of the computer editing and such, why is it there has yet to be a seamless edit involving helicopters and blue screens? Whenever people are hanging off helicopters, it never looks at all real.

The killer of this film, like most, is the lack of script. Not since the series premiere of Enterprise have I seen a film that seemed more like a collection of lines than an actual story. This film is filled with sound bytes, attempts to make a marketable catch phrase. Well, none ended up sticking with me. In this case, the lack of the script drags the film down. It has too many obvious faults in the plot. For instance, why do the villains go through all the trouble of capturing Bosley when all they need to do is take his phone?

It feels like a 70s women exploitation film with Bosley's opening pep talk to the villainess' declaration that leads to a high energy fight between her and one of the Angels. This is another one of those films where I would wish we were past that. It doesn't take three women going around fighting men (and women) in hand to hand combat after solving a series of supposedly tricky puzzles to prove women are at least the equal of men. In this case, the hyperbole is especially troubling as the males tend to be either dimwitted or not terribly attractive (thus enhancing the intelligence and beauty of the Angels).

I'm wishing for a film where the female characters are strong on their own right, cunning in their own ways, and don't need validation from the men in their life to execute their own plans. I want heroines who are combating villains who are their equals. Oh wait, there is a film like that! I've got to go rewatch Bound. At the very least, it's not as obvious and teen-oriented as Charlie's Angels.

For other films involving Drew Barrymore, please check out:
Going The Distance
Whip It
Donnie Darko
Batman Forever
Ever After


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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