Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Charlie's Angels: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Get some action

Adventure has never been more beautiful than Charlie's Angels! Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu star as the captivating crime-fighting trio who are masters of disguise, espionage and marital arts. When a devious mastermind embroils them in a plot to destroy individual privacy, the Angels are on the spot with their brains, brawn and high-tech toys. Aided by their loyal sidekick Bosley (Bill Murray), the girls are about to bring down the bad guys when a terrible secret is revealed that makes the Angels a target of assassination. Now, it's a matter of life or death as the stunningly smart detectives use their state-of-the-art skills to kick evil's butt in this sexy, high-octane comedy!

Director: McG
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, Tim Curry, Crispin Glover, Kelly Lynch, Luke Wilson, Sam Rockwell, John Forsythe
Box Office: Budget: $92 million. Opening Weekend: $40.128 million. Gross: $125.305 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, English & French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; Rated PG-13; 99 min.; $27.96; street date 3/27/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director McG and Cinematographer Russell Carpenter; Deleted and Extended Scenes; Set Design, Fashion, Martial Arts and Stunts, Special Effects and Director McG Featurettes; Wired Angels Scene Deconstruction; Outtakes and Bloopers; Music Videos; Production Notes; Theatrical Trailers; Talent Files; Weblink.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/B+

When I first saw the trailers for the new film version of Charlie’s Angels, I immediately decided that it would either be terrific or it would be terrible. Based on the evidence at hand, it seemed unlikely the movie would occupy any form of middle ground.

During the early segments of the film, I felt that my theory was correct, as CA begins with a level of campiness and self-reference that was groan-inducing. For example, the opening scene takes place on a plane, and the in-flight film is called TJ Hooker: The Movie. We then hear characters complain about “another movie based on an old TV show”. Ugh!

Much of the rest of the film stays well within the boundaries of gleefully over-the-top action, all while it winks at the audience. Although this technique can get old at times, for the most part I thought Charlie’s Angels offered a fairly entertaining and fun experience. Not for a second does it pretend to be part of the real world, and while the self-referential qualities could be a little tiresome, the flick generally stays on the side of acceptable silliness.

Believe it or not, those of us who were kids when Charlie’s Angels became a hit in the mid-Seventies actually used to take that tripe pretty seriously. Heck, everything was broad and goofy back then - it was just the style. However, CA occupied a special place in the world of unreality. As such, it’s maintained a modest cult following due to its over the top glamour and action. Clearly the makers of the motion picture felt it was best to embrace the show’s excesses and take them even farther, and that means the movie goes way past the TV program in that regard.

As for the plot - does it really matter? In a nutshell, the Angels - Natalie (Cameron Diaz), Alex (Lucy Liu), and Dylan (Drew Barrymore) plus shepherd Bosley (Bill Murray) - take on a case to find a kidnapped software mogul (Sam Rockwell). Some romantic involvements ensue, and plenty of red herrings crop up along the way. Lots of action and mayhem accompany the story.

That’s really about all you need to know, for the plot offers nothing much of interest. Instead, the movie’s all about the production, with one bright and vibrant scene after another. The film exists to put the Angels in a variety of lively situations and have some fun.

In that regard, it generally succeeded. The movie’s action took many cues from flicks like The Matrix and it provided lots of goofy excitement. As action heroines, both Liu and Diaz best fit the roles. Liu has a harsh, dominatrix appeal that makes her interesting to watch as she abuses others, while Diaz seems able to do just about anything. I’m not wild about her bone-thin, bleached blonde look in the film, but as time passes, I become more and more impressed with her skills as an actress. She appears able to do a nice variety of parts, from the ruthless executive of Any Given Sunday to the sweet every-girl of There’s Something About Mary to the nerdy obsessive of Being John Malkovich. Here she goes for a serious Pollyanna vibe as wide-eyed innocent Natalie, but she’s also able to put up a fight with the best of them.

Diaz possesses a strong physicality that the others lack. Liu’s fights worked just because she looked so good in the part, but Diaz backs up her action scenes with fluid movement. As for Barrymore, I thought her bits were the least convincing. Although she’s developed into a lovely young woman, she’s beefier than the other two, and her body seems ill-suited for the forms of graceful, smooth fights we find. Drew looks like she’d be more at home in a bar brawl than during her Matrix-esque wire work.

As for the remaining cast, I found Murray to be surprisingly uncompelling as Bosley. Perhaps this is because I expected him to be a real live-wire within the movie’s wide-open framework. However, the procession of goofy set-ups into which he’s placed actually seem to constrict him to some degree. I mean, how much can he add to a scene in which he has to don an inflatable sumo wrestler suit? Murray provides a little spark, but this movie’s all about production values and slick presentation, so there’s little opportunity for him to shine.

On the other hand, I continue to be impressed with the work of Rockwell. He’s becoming a versatile semi-chameleon through films like CA, The Green Mile, and Galaxy Quest, but unlike someone such as Gary Oldman, Rockwell doesn’t alter his physical appearance much; he makes the characters seem different through his own personality permutations, which frankly makes the work more impressive. Although he essentially looks the same for his roles, they seem terribly different. I saw The Green Mile and Galaxy Quest very close together last summer, but it wasn’t until I browsed through IMDB that I realized the same actor had been in both. Rockwell does a solid job with the character changes required in CA and he continues to offer an intriguing presence.

While CA presents a pretty good cast, the emphasis remains on the production, which is a hyperactive affair that flits about from venue to venue with alarming alacrity. However, I rarely thought the transitions were horribly excessive, and the film’s rapid pacing helps it considerably because it doesn’t allow us to think too much. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but trust me, CA is one of those movies that you just have to turn off your brain and enjoy; it’s so wildly unrealistic that it makes the Bond films look like documentaries.

One aspect of the series I’d like to see expanded in any sequels would be the backstory. Unlike James Bond, it’s obvious that the Angels are a constantly-changing trio, so it’d be fun to hear more about past Angels and the evolution of the group. The films could easily involve ex-Angels, either real (Farrah, Jaclyn, Kate, Cheryl, Shelly or Tanya) or fake (take your pick of older babes). I’d also like to know if the movie’s Bosley is supposed to be the one-and-only, or have there been a few Bosleys over the years, ala “M” in the Bond flicks.

Ultimately, my prediction about Charlie’s Angels wasn’t correct. It was neither great nor terrible. In the end, I found it to be excessively glib and campy at times, but I thought it offered a generally fun and exciting experience that will appeal to most fans of the TV series.

The DVD:

Charlie’s Angels appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one might expect from a recent, big-budget flick, the picture looked absolutely stunning, with almost no problems on display.

Sharpness seemed immaculate at all times. Never did I discern any soft or hazy shots, as the movie consistently appeared crisp and detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges looked absent from the screen as well, and print details were almost totally non-existent. I detected one or two specks during the film, but that was it. Otherwise the image seemed completely clean and fresh.

Colors appeared quite dazzling, as the movie offered a broad and bright palette. From the vivid hues that frequently populated the film to the warm golden tones often added to the shots, the colors always came across as vibrant and accurate, with no problems related to bleeding, noise or smearing. Black levels were deep and rich, and shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but never excessively dark. Ultimately, CA provided a terrific image that appeared consistently excellent.

Also very strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Charlie’s Angels. The soundfield offered a solid environment that kept the action flying hot and heavy throughout most of the movie. The front spectrum contributed good stereo separation for the music plus realistic and engaging localization for effects, all of which blended together very cleanly. I also heard occasional bits of dialogue from the sides, and these were integrated well. The rear channels contributed lots of discrete audio of their own, as they used both effects and music to keep me involved in the action.

Actually, although the effects seemed loud and engaging, the music really functioned as the star of the auditory show. CA provides an almost non-stop array of score and pop songs; the credit list at the film’s end seemed to run for hours. Though the presentation can be over the top, the use of music usually worked well for the movie, and the manner in which all five channels blasted the songs made them even more effective.

Audio quality also seemed terrific. Dialogue appeared crisp and natural, with no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects sounded realistic and accurate; they portrayed fairly good depth and lacked any distortion. Music appeared clear and bright, with clean highs and acceptably rich lows. If I have one complaint about the soundtrack, it stems from bass response. Low end seemed positive, but it didn’t come across quite as deep as I expected. Clearly the film offered good bass, but I thought this aspect should have been stronger. In any case, the overall impression offered by the soundtrack of Charlie’s Angels was very pleasing, as the mix worked well for the material.

For the DVD release of Charlie’s Angels, Columbia-Tristar (CTS) have issued a pretty solid special edition package. First up is a running audio commentary from director McG and cinematographer Russell Carpenter. Both men were recorded together for this screen-specific affair, a situation that seems unfortunate for Carpenter; McG is such a spaz that Carpenter rarely is able to get a word in edgewise. Often when Carpenter starts to speak, McG will cut him off to insert his own thoughts. Someone get that boy some Ritalin!

As a whole, the commentary offered a few good tidbits about the film, and it seemed generally entertaining, but I thought too much of it focused on the usual “happy talk” that weighs down many of these kinds of tracks. McG especially tended to lavish excessive praise on the actors and other participants. While that bodes well for his future employment, it doesn’t create a fascinating commentary. We hear enough interesting details to make the track worth a listen for fans of the film, but I still thought it was a pretty mediocre presentation.

(For the record, McG does touch upon some of the alleged feuds that took place on the set. However, don’t expect a graphic retelling. He offers a brief and superficial discussion of a disagreement between Bill Murray and Lucy Liu, but it becomes “G”-rated in his happy hands. No, I didn’t expect any gory details, but it probably would have been best for him to totally ignore the subject. If you’re not gonna give us the dirt, buddy, just leave the whole thing alone!)

On the remainder of the DVD, we discover a slew of featurettes. Rather than provide one all-encompassing documentary, the extras nibble away at a wide variety of smaller subjects in these short and fluffy programs. Probably the most superficial of the bunch is the first, Getting G’d Up, which discusses hyperactive director McG. This six and a half minute piece features sound bites with a variety of cast and crew members plus some shots from the set. Almost invariably, the comments tend toward excessive praise, which is what makes a few more irreverent remarks from Bill Murray more enjoyable. It’s not much of a featurette, but Murray’s riffing helps make it more compelling.

Much better is the next program, The Master and the Angels. This seven minute and 20 second piece focuses on the work of fight choreographer Cheung-Yan Yuen and provides a nice look at those elements of the process. Especially interesting are all of the solid behind the scenes shots available in this featurette.

The next few programs each focus on different areas of the film. Welcome to Angel World lasts four minutes and 45 seconds and concentrates on production design, while the three minute and 25 second Angelic Attire: Dressing Cameron, Drew and Lucy looks at costuming for the main characters and a few others as well. Angelic Effects provides a six minute and 40 second discussion of the film’s special effects. All are superficial but entertaining and interesting pieces.

More fun is Wired Angels, a raw look at the movie’s alley fight sequence. In this two and a half minute piece, we see that scene prior to wire removal and with the natural production sound. It’s a cool way to view this aspect of the movie-making process.

Next up are three Deleted and Extended Scenes. We get a cut segment in which Bosley plays Marco Polo with Corwin (75 seconds), plus another edited sequence in which Dylan and Natalie are dressed as men; they toy with Corwin in a men’s room (90 seconds). The final scene is the only extended one; it shows additional romance between Dylan and Knox (100 seconds). Each of these includes an introduction from McG, and he provides some closing comments as well.

Outtakes and Bloopers proved to be a disappointment. All this two minute and 35 second clip offers is the same material found in the closing credits sans the actual text; even the song that runs over the credits remains the same, and it prevents us from hearing any additional audio snippets. Unfortunately, we find nothing new here, so I’m not sure what the point of this piece was.

Two music videos appear on this DVD. We get a clip for “Independent Woman Part 1” from Destiny’s Child, and “Charlie’s Angels 2000” from Apollo Four Forty. Both videos follow the usual “clip-synch” formula; they combine shots of the respective acts performing the songs with snippets from the movie.

Both tunes and videos were pretty lame. The DC clip was probably better, as it at least showed a little creativity; we find some shots of the singers at “Angels Training Camp”. Nonetheless, the song was tired and grating, and the video showed no great flair. The A440 bit was a total loss. The tune is just an annoying update of the show’s theme, and the video just made the band members look like obnoxious imbeciles. By the way, these are the same guys who did the theme song update for Lost In Space - do they ever produce music that isn’t related to a movie based on a TV show?

The Talent Files area provides the usual painfully brief biographies. Here we find listings for director McG plus actors Diaz, Liu, Barrymore and Murray. The Trailers section is surprisingly large, however. In addition to the teaser and full trailers for CA - both of which appear with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and 16X9 enhancement - we get promos for My Best Friend’s Wedding, Vertical Limit, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Adventures of Joe Dirt, and a teaser for Final Fantasy. All are anamorphic except for the oddly full frame CTHD, and all offer 5.1 sound other than the Dolby Surround 2.0 presentations of MBFW and CTHD. Although I know these ads will be less interesting in the future, I still like the inclusion of trailers for upcoming theatrical releases. I’d never even heard of the David Spade vehicle Joe Dirt, so it was fun to get the preview. (Not that the movie looks any good, however.)

Lastly, the DVD includes some short but interesting production notes in its booklet plus a few Easter Eggs. Here are the three I could find, all of which are available in the “Special Features” area. From the “Wired Angels” listing, click to the left and you’ll be able to access shots of Barrymore getting a head cast made. Go right from “Getting G’d Up” and you can go to a short montage of Angels hair flipping moments. Finally, if you land on the final page of “Special Features”, click right from the “<” icon and you can get to some additional outtakes.

To my surprise, Charlie’s Angels includes no DVD-ROM features. We find a weblink to the official movie site, but otherwise no computer-enhanced materials appear. It seemed odd that Lawrence of Arabia, a movie that should be more popular with older viewers, provided a wealth of DVD-ROM extras but younger, hipper CA doesn’t. It’s still a nice collection of supplements, but I simply found the omission of substantial DVD-ROM pieces to seem strange.

Ultimately, Charlie’s Angels provides a pretty entertaining experience. At times it tries too hard to be clever or witty, but for the most part it obtains a nice balance between over-the-top campiness and fun action. The DVD offers excellent picture and sound plus a slew of small but interesting extras. At the end of the day, Charlie’s Angels won’t dazzle you, but it can be a generally delightful ride for anyone in the mood for something slick and silly.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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