Angel Cheesecake
Oh, it's bad for you, but it tastes mighty good
By Rob Bricken

ovie remakes of old TV shows are peculiar beasts. There are always three ways to go: pay strict allegiance to original, in tone spirit, and content; update the original content for the minute attention spans of the modern world; or try to make something new and wondrous by building off the original. Few movies attempt the first, since no one really wants to see a 90-minute episode of Three's Company. And the latter is simply too tough - only the Brady Bunch has really pulled it off.

Charlie's Angels, the movie, travels down the well-worn middle road.

The 70s TV show was a bastion of T 'n' A and stylishly dumb plots. The new Charlie's Angels flick is an action-packed, high-octane blockbuster with a smattering of cleavage and a stylishly dumb plot and a bigger budget.

Normally this approach would fail.

Few 70s television shows really pack the necessary goods to sustain a motion picture nowadays without adding more to the mix - and those extras end up being effects, a direct anathema to TV shows in general. This inevitably alienates the fans, whose treasure has been defaced.

And so the fanboys of Charlie's Angels will be horrified to see the new incarnation of the lovely ladies. Sure, they solve crimes and investigate things, don revealing disguises, and flip their hair back. Most of the dialogue sounds like it was cobbled together from the 1976 season anyway.

But add in several billion bucks, martial arts choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen (brother of Matrix-arts master Wo-Ping Yuen), and producer-star Drew Barrymore's decision to keep the Angels from using guns makes this essentially a 70s title and concept to plan a modern action flick around.

And as long as you still don't have your Farrah Fawcett poster up, you might just like it.

The movie even provides a premise for the change; Charlie (still the voice of John Forsythe) has been supervising his Angels all this time; old girls are dropped and new girls - specifically Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu - are brought in.

Charlie has kept the Angels up to date in the latest gadgets and gear, turning them more into a Mission: Impossible type squad. So, when a computer programmer and his special voice recognition program are kidnapped, the Angels are dispatched to save the day.

The three lovely ladies do this through large amounts of sheer goofiness. The action sequences are goofy: the film chugs along at its tongue-in-cheek tone, and then people start flying around on wires, running up fences, and launching multiple Matrix-esque high kicks (complete with Matrix-perfected camerawork).

Watch Drew Barrymore flail about for a bit and - despite entire weeks of exhaustive martial arts training - you'll realize this can't possibly be intended as a serious action film.

On the other side is the cerebral activity of the trio. While they can dismantle missiles, they still get constantly distracted by boys. Insulting? No. Goofy? Very much so. But again, it's so preposterous that it must be intentional.

Best example: the Angels need a man's retinal eye pattern. Do they break into his house, rig scanning equipment, or find some high-tech program to solve the problem? No. Instead, they dress as German milkmaids, wearing short skirts and braids. Then they (naturally) sing a song while spanking each other, during which Bill Murray as Bosley plays a Sousaphone that happens to be equipped with a retinal eye scanner.

It's a ridiculous solution to a simple problem. These Angels are adept at finding the solution that requires the biggest budget, most effects, and ample suspension of disbelief.

Charlie's Angels is not brilliant, but the action sequences are so preposterous and out-of-the-blue that entertainment comes pretty easily. Meanwhile, the non-action sequences couldn't appear more routine, as the Angels dress up and try to break in to various locales, meet their boyfriends, and other junk. For instance, Diaz is trying to charm a boy, and so the girls tell her to flip her hair. Hair-flipping couldn't be a more routine, Charlie's Angels way to flirt and appear sexy, and the set-up and the excessively long shot of Diaz's hair-flipping does not make it satire.

All rumors of on-set quarreling aside, the actresses convincingly appear to be best friends. They have a natural chemistry that is absolutely vital to making the audience care about their antics and ass-kicking. It doesn't matter that their kung-fu looks far less realistic than Keanu Reeves's; they flip and flap about like born master ninjas, and it usually works.

Bill Murray, who is handed less-than-inspired lines and a few easily-guessed jokes manages to make them work as he revels in them until they become something new, proving his comedic genius and adding more entertainment value.

Incidentally, whisper-thin Crispin Glover - ol' George McFly from Back to the Future - is there as an over-the-top creepy guy (called Creepy Thin Guy by the Angels). A movie that has George McFly doing creepy kung-fu on Lucy Liu is a movie that's enjoying itself.

Just as a movie that drops a naked Drew Barrymore into the backyard of the house used in E.T. is a movie that's having a damn bit of fun.

And here's the nub of Charlie's Angels: it's fun.

Oh sure, it's a bad movie. Full of bad lines, a frequently ludicrous plot, and action scenes that don't belong. But somehow, it all works. The total commitment each actress has to her vapidity makes it charming. They say each terrible line as if they had been written yesterday instead of 1972, and their enthusiasm is infectious.

The movie is just so excited to be doing what it's doing that to notice the plot holes is to miss the point.

Just watch the pretty and improbable action sequences, and laugh in spite of yourself as the movie consciously glories in how silly it and its characters are.

It's not a movie worth owning. It probably isn't worth watching on a small screen at all, and it might not even stand up to a second viewing.

But oh, that first viewing is a real treat. As long as you can check your common sense and standards at the door, Charlie's Angels is sheer entertainment, fun for everyone who can shut off their brains. If you can enjoy it half as much as the Angels themselves appeared to, you'll get your money's worth.