Salvation Army

'Charlie's Angels' Delivers Us From The Need For Substance.

C'HARLIE'S ANGELS IS the cinematic equivalent of crack cocaine. It's a horribly hollow experience that leaves nothing but shame in its wake, and yet it feels so good while you're under its spell.

Charlie's Angels makes the standard stabs at ironic self-reflection, most of which fall flat. It's so shallow there should be a "no diving" sign posted outside of theaters that are showing it. It's essentially little more than a 98-minute collection of explosions, butt shots and kung fu poses. But still, the visual effects are so good that they're actually viscerally enjoyable. Oh, the shame.

It's The Matrix's fault, really. All the slo-mo, super-hero fighting effects that that movie foisted on the American public are still so amazing and fresh that it's hard not to enjoy them, even when they're wedded to the thinnest of plots.

Does Charlie's Angels even have a plot? Ultimately, who cares? It has beautiful, scantily clad people leaping about and displaying their bodies for our amusement. It has things, and those things blow up. Formula fulfilled.

Formula fulfilled so slavishly, in fact, that there are close-ups of women's butts even during the explosions, as though merely having the butt close-up, or merely showing a gorgeous, flaming, digitally enhanced explosion, was no longer enough. If this keeps up, future films will simply feature a split screen, with hardcore sex on one side and enormous fireballs on the other.

The Angels (or "les anges," as the Bosley character calls them), are Natalie, Dylan and Alex. It'd be nice if the acting was laughably bad, but, in fact, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu are all perfect in their seraphic roles. Diaz has somehow managed to capture the essence of the famous silhouette image that was the logo for the original Charlie's Angels TV series, constantly flipping into Kate Jackson's (or was it Jacklyn Smith's?) famous pose. Drew Barrymore plays a comic slut in a most affable and sympathetic manner, and Lucy Liu dives into a dragon-lady stereotype with enough gusto to make it all seem funny.

And, of course, there's Bill Murray, who, post-Rushmore, is widely considered a comic genius. He probably is. Sadly, the writers for Charlie's Angels neglected to give him any jokes, but he makes do with some mugging and his trademarked hapless con-man character to get him through his role as Bosley, intermediary between the Angels and their mysterious boss Charlie.

Charlie is played by John Forsythe, the only holdover from the TV series. Charlie remains unseen through the film, though one catches a glimpse of his hand or the back of his head. The sight of his face, of course, is more than mortals can bear, because, of course, Charlie is a metaphor for God. He's the invisible presence who sends Angels to right the wrongs of the world. He's dedicated to helping others. He's also an old man with white hair who smokes cigars and lives in a fabulous beach house. Just like God.

Somebody wants to kill Charlie (another problem God has faced at least since Nietzsche turned stalker), prompting the Angels to take action. In order to keep the fight scenes moving along, the motivation for the bad guy's desire to kill Charlie is offered by an expository photograph. Flash the photo, move on to the fighting. I love the expository photograph; expository dialogue would have taken up at least half a minute that could have been devoted to breasts and action sequences (and breast-filled action sequences), whereas a picture speaks a thousand words in just under 2.5 seconds.

The Angels, of course, must stop this evil madman. Well, after one of them has sex with him. They are Angels, after all, and must do good even when fighting evil. In order to get to the madman they have to fight or have sex or fight and have sex with a series of comic-relief characters played by Tim Curry, Crispin Glover and Tom Green. Curry plays a mincing millionaire; Glover plays a silent, crazed assassin; and Green plays a self-obsessed loser. Basically, they all just play themselves. But what the hell, it works.

In fact, the whole film works. It's not good in a traditional, aesthetic sense. It lacks all the basics, including plot, consistency and depth. It's certainly not good in a moral sense: In spite of its shallow girl-power message, it's mostly about hot chicks in tight pants following orders from their sugar daddy. But it is good in the way addictive drugs, cheap sex and enormous slabs of ice cream are good.

The tight clothes and brutal violence aren't what make Charlie's Angels so good, though. It's the cinematography, sound and digital effects. They're so perfectly executed and tightly integrated that they produce actual, physical satisfaction. Which, while a technical marvel, is also something of a fright. I'd hate to think that anything could be that good and that empty without leaving a hangover or a venereal disease in its wake.

Charlie's Angels is playing at El Dorado (745-6241), Foothills (742-6174), DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240), Century Park (620-0750) and Century El Con (202-3343).

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