Plausibility is the greatest enemy of the action film. Action films either desperately try to create a sense of logic behind each action sequence (usually resulting in further generating ridiculously stupid story-lines) or simply ignore the need for a narrative and get on with delivering the expected visual action displays. Charlie’s Angels does something different. It exploits its inherent implausibility and lack of narrative coherence to full comic potential, leaving the viewer on one hell of a ride of exhilarating action and laugh-out-loud humour.
Unlike other adapted from television films, Charlie’s Angels does not try to cover entire serial story-lines in two hours, nor does it simply mock the original show. Charlie’s Angles does parody seventies cop shows and spy movies, but it does so with genuine fondness rather than the savage condescension that characterised The Brady Bunch Movie. The audience goes along for the ride, getting into the atmosphere generated by Charlie’s Angels rather than sitting back detached from the film and smugly laughing at old-fashioned social conventions.
The humour is fuelled by the chemistry between the Angles (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Lui) who generate an abundance of enthusiasm and cheeky sex appeal. They are supported by the superb Bill Murray whose dead pan delivery and timing still make him one of the best living comic actors. The cast is obviously having fun and shares the sense of lovingly sending up the genre.
The most defining aspect of Charlie’s Angles is the Hong Kong influence on the action sequences. Thanks to the dominance of Don Simpson’s and Jerry Bruckheimer’s High Concept formula, we are used to action films bombarding us with an influx of confusing quick edits accompanied with an outdated cock-rock classic. Such films never let the viewer actual focus on the action, but nevertheless we are told that the sequence is exciting because the music gets louder and faster. This type of emotionally manipulative film-making is totally abandoned in Charlie’s Angles which keeps the camera rolling long enough to actually see what is happening. Instead of gunplay and high body counts, we get the pleasure of watching highly choreographed martial arts sequences where the actors seemingly defy gravity. For years now the Hong Kong film industry has been aware of how watching quality martial arts can be like watching ballet. Thankfully with The Matrix and now with Charlie’s Angles, Hong Kong talent has been employed to bring this sensibility to Hollywood. Anybody can pull a gun trigger, but only the graceful and classy can pull of the kind of moves that the Angles do.
Most people will have a lot of fun watching this proudly silly film. Its combination of irrelevant humour and inspired action should please even the most jaded viewers who had given up on Hollywood ever producing a genuinely enjoyable distraction. In many ways Charlie’s Angels is a return to the spirit of classic Hollywood musicals where the pleasure in viewing was simply a result of star charisma and spectacle. Charlie’s Angels does not attempt to do anything else than simply entertain – but it does it extremely well.
An edited version of this review appeared in Film Analysis Handbook (Insight Publications, 2005)