My sister and I grew up on "classic" television. We liked the fare offered during our childhood, like Spongebob Squarepants and Hannah Montana, but we preferred Get Smart, Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, and The Avengers. It wasn’t so much that we sought them all out as much as our father wanted us to taste the television-based delicacies he'd favored in his childhood. I remember fussing about his notions of generational consumerism sometime after he made our family sit down and watch the first few episodes of The Brady Bunch one sleepy Sunday night for the first time. But not long after did I start to fall for the dopiness of vintage TV myself.
With technology at our fingertips, unlike our dad's four-channel, 1970s upbringing, we could seek out the best of the best on Netflix, where we (and sometimes still) could order individual discs that comprised any given season of any given series. As we had a designated television watching hour (from 8 to 9 p.m. on school nights), we would, most of the time, wait until Friday for bingeing, as it was a day in which we could stay up late and do our viewing in the company of pizza, pop, and little disturbance. Some of my greatest childhood memories revolve around watching TV of the yesteryear. I was more inclined to keep up with Pamela Sue Martin’s Nancy Drew Mysteries than go out and do reckless things.
I have no doubt that my sister can relate to the same nostalgia I’m so unabashedly spewing out, which is why, a year or so ago, we began watching Charlie’s Angels, which was an act of spontaneity that also represented an attempt to harken back to the days of our childhood. Most of our after school free time during my senior year of high school was spent with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson, and, when Farrah left, Cheryl Ladd. We stopped around the time Shelley Hack came around, but the show was a terrific one for our relationship. As we were both old enough to recognize its many ridiculous instances of acting, dialogue, and plot points, laughs would abound between us like some sort of riled up sitcom audience. In everyday conversation, we still reference an episode in which Jaclyn got shot in the head and woke up the next day only with a minor bandage, with her makeup, hair, and mental state intact.
Maybe that’s why I like 2000’s Charlie’s Angels, a love-it-or-hate-it action movie, with such vigor. It captures the sheer buffooneries and implausibilities of the TV series and modernizes them, with golden-era MTV swank, a giddy sense of humor, and enough kung fu-style battles to make it worthy of praise and not just a couple of giggles. For some, its hyperactive energy and resembling of a music video might cause it to come across as shallow filmmaking suffering from the ever familiar disorder of liking style over substance. But its director, McG (if you can believe it), is able to bridge the gap between extreme style (think Baz Luhrmann meets Miami Vice) and a bubbly personality — the film is so in love with itself and its goofiness that we’re taken aback by how much we come to like it too.
Because who can resist a film in which its ensemble appears to be having the time of their lives, in which farce is let so loose? Its titular Angels are Dylan (Drew Barrymore), Natalie (Cameron Diaz), and Alex (Lucy Liu), who, if you don’t know by now, are crimefighters that work for an anonymous and unseen millionaire named Charlie (voiced by John Forsythe). With his assistant Bosley (Bill Murray) prepared to work with them in times of crisis, the girls are free-spirited but efficient detectives able to utilize their versatile talents and merge them whenever danger arises.
Their latest assignment involves Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell), a software mastermind who has recently been kidnapped by ominous figures. The creator of a potentially globe shattering technological creation that employs an impressive voice-activation system, his disappearance could spell disaster for his company and the population as a whole. Who knows what his work could be capable of when thrown into the wrong hands?
With brains to match their beauty, it doesn’t take the Angels long to get to the bottom of the case and figure out what’s really going on, which is, expectedly, a hell of a lot more elaborate than what they’re first presented with. But fear not: intrigue is their middle name, and Dylan, Natalie, and Alex aren’t ace investigators at the top of their respective pay scales for nothing.
Whether Charlie’s Angels is a satire of its source material, though, is a proclamation I’m not so certain of. It mocks anything Hollywood: it’s makes a mockery of the chick flick, the action movie, the kung-fu razzler dazzler, the romantic drama, the buddy-cop comedy, the arthouse thriller your friend dragged you to and you only vaguely enjoyed. Being wrapped in its breathy package of candy colors and illimitable vibrations, I’m disposed to consider it to be something better than your average escapist fantasy, something of the time, and something I could watch repeatedly (which I have) and still like as much as the first time I viewed it.
Because Charlie’s Angels, like the TV show, doesn’t make for anything necessarily nutritious or even that great — it, plain and simply, is a blockbuster so high in its artistic ambition, performative likability (Barrymore, Diaz, and Liu are all kick-ass hoots), and overall stamina that defying its cheery fun is akin to eating a bowl of ice cream and then asking your server for a refund for supposed bad taste. If you know you liked it, there’s no shame in consuming cinematic junk food once in a while. Charlie’s Angels just happens to be particularly tasty. B+