Charlie's Angels is a Real Kick
"My name is Charlie. They kick for me..."
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It's certainly not Masterpiece Theater. It's not even a Bond film. If you're looking for meaningful plots, or deep characterizations, this isn't the movie. But if you want an evening of non-stop, brainless fun, this is it. Exciting, fun to watch, and very entertaining, Charlie's Angels takes the martial arts movie into a new direction--retro TV nostalgia with Hong Kong-style martial arts, peppered with comic relief every other scene to break the tension, a la Jackie Chan.

The movie jumps right in to where the 1970's TV show left off--literally, as the opening sequence takes Angels Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) skydiving to defuse a terrorist bomb attack, landing in a speedboat piloted by the ever-effervescent Natalie (Cameron Diaz). The Bond-style opening sets the stage for the rest of the film, equal measures camp and action, portrayed by three of Hollywood's most sought-after women. Think Sex in the City-meets-the-Powerpuff Girls, and you've summed up the movie quite well.

From the explosive opening, the Angels progress to a conference call from reclusive millionaire and father figure Charlie (John Forsythe) while being shepherded by male foil Bosley (Bill Murray). Their mission: eccentric software genius Eric Knox (Sam Rockwell) has been kidnapped. Find him. Major suspect: the Larry Ellison-esque rival high tech mogul Roger Corwin (Tim Curry), although Knox's partner Vivian Wood (Kelly Lynch) is not without suspicion.

The fight scenes are flashy and cinematically rich, as you'd expect from director McG's background in music videos. Scripted by Hong Kong fightmaster Cheung-Yan Yuen, brother of the Matrix's martial arts coordinator, the Angels take on bad guys with aplomb, using their high heels and long legs to great advantage. Like most movies of this type (e.g. without real martial artists on the marquee), the style is mostly cinematic kung fu mixed with tae kwon do, the latter for its showy high spinning kicks.

Although the fight scenes are entertaining and visually amazing, they're often played too seriously--as if the director expects us to believe that Cameron Diaz could throw a blind spinning back kick and take out not one, not two, but three bad guys with a single kick. Or that the girls could jump from 20 feet away, legs flailing in mid-air, to plant a powerful double kick on a baddie. Better to play up the campiness and impossibility, like Hong Kong kung fu movies where the heroes are always jumping in and out of trees, (with the requisite flapping fabric sound effects).

And then there's the incessant posing. Yeah, you see a lot of these in old-fashioned chop socky films, where the hero from ancient Chinese mythology settles into his favorite stance, glaring at his rival. But in Charlie's Angels, having the three beautiful private eyes posing after each break in the action makes the fight scenes just silly. Too bad the soundtrack doesn't include any Madonna--you could just hear, "Vogue--strike a pose."

But what can you expect? At the very least, the Angels' stunt doubles, Dana Hee and Cheryl Wheeler, both identifiable during some slow-mo sequences, are extremely competent martial artists, and their experience shows in their scenes. Hee, the 1988 Olympic gold medallist in tae kwon do, and Wheeler, a former champion women's kickboxer, make things look easy. When Liu whips a chain around in a close-up homage to Bruce Lee's nunchaku scene in Enter the Dragon, she looks a bit nervous--despite Liu's real-life training in kali/escrima. Don't blink or you'll miss it: Hong Kong action queen Michiko Nishiwaki has a short cameo as--what else?--a stuntwoman.

I found the movie wonderfully fun, and well-worth seeing. The no-guns-we're-using-kung fu stance of producer and star Barrymore paid off in another movie showcasing more Matrix-style martial arts. And despite the unbelievability of these three stars kicking butt as secret agents, it somehow made sense in the end. How's that for implausibility?

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